Food

Jam session

Hearing the doorbell at 7am on a weekday is uncommon at home. Imagine my surprise to find a man standing with a huge bushel of star fruit. My aunt had sent it. When I called to thank her, she hoped that I would be able to make something useful from that vast quantity. My son loves to eat slices of star fruit with a sprinkling of sugar, but even he would not be able to polish off two kilos of it.

Star fruit has a high water content. Hence, it does not keep well for too long after plucking. The ones that were sent to me were just ripe and I decided to make a preserve with the fruits. So, I decided to make a ‘healthy’ jam.

Cutting the star fruit itself is such a happy task. The line up of perfect edible stars on the chopping board is such a pretty sight. It's Just ensure that the ridges on the sides are devoid of any dirt, and remove the pips with the tip of a knife.

Once my star fruit was sliced, I lined up the other ingredients that would go into the jam. They were organic jaggery, lemon, a stick of cinnamon and a pinch of salt (then, you have to shut out the outside world as you make jam. It is serious business).

I cooked the star fruit with a small amount of water to soften it, then added the jaggery that instantly lent a caramel colour to the fruit. I followed that up with the rest of the ingredients. With the heat on very low, I stirred and allowed the flavours to mingle. The mixture bubbled up and there was a slight change in density. The fruit released its juices into the melted jaggery and the pectin from the fruit worked it’s magic to turn the mixture to a sticky consistency. The juice of the lemon helps in preservation and balances the syrupiness of the liquefied jaggery.

As I made the jam, I couldn’t help remembering my childhood spent in Coonoor and Wellington, and the countless afternoon teas my mother and I had in the homes of the armed forces officers and their wives. They were pretty amazing women.

Highly resourceful, they were self sufficient and made the best out of what was available around them. They made housework seem effortless and were always ready to welcome a guest. Wherever they were stationed they turned their house into a home, with practised ease. Their kitchens churned out home made goodies throughout the year… Squashes, preserves, rolls, cakes … As a young girl, it was a treat to be served a formal tea in delicate china tea cups and plates with tea cosies and serviettes that were incredibly dainty with fine embroidery. Tea was had sitting on white wrought iron chairs surrounding a table, on a well manicured lawn, under some gigantic tree. This is where I learnt to sit without slouching and to await my turn to speak! The ladies ran an efficient home and were themselves impeccably turned out.

A couple of years ago, I visited one of them who still lives in Wellington. Cuckoo Aunty is in her 80s and her larder is still filled with freshly picked peaches and pears. My children were as enchanted with Cuckoo Suares as I was all those years ago. My jam is an ode to her and other women like her.

Which brings us back to the star-jam. The first batch came out all appropriately sticky and golden. The quantity however was enough to fill only three small jars. The very next day I asked my friend Nethra, to send me the star fruit from her garden. I enjoyed the whole process so much that I made the jam all over again and filled the many empty bottles that were kept ready.

I was over enthusiastic and the second batch turned into an extra sticky preserve. My brother said it was more like ' javvu mittai', but delicious, nevertheless. But do remember to be watchful when the jam is thickening. Even a few minutes longer than necessary will turn it into toffee- consistency. But, we relished it all the same spooned on a slice of toasted walnut bread smeared with cream cheese.

The popping sounds of the sugar boiling, the aroma of the cinnamon stick as it is swirled around among the fruit, the colours that go from pale to intensely golden are all so uplifting. Jam making is such a joyful thing.


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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 3:49:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/jam-session/article6962962.ece

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