You probably will have noticed by now that in my day-to-day cooking, I try my best to stay away from processed and refined ingredients. Things like white sugar, vegetable oils and white flour will not make frequent appearances on my ingredient lists, and that is something I am definitely proud of. I am always looking for ways to make healthier, more nutritious versions of the food I love with suitable and sensible substitutions, and I will continue to do so.
However, there are some foods that will never fit into this profile, and I still enjoy them unapologetically. I believe that in a healthy and well balanced diet, there is always space for indulgence and not-so-virtuous foods…all of course, in moderation.
One of the things I have always loved is jam. Specifically, homemade jams. Even more specifically, my father’s homemade jams. My father was the KING of jamming. Ok that sorta made him sound like Bob Marley. Papi with dreadlocks. HAHA! Ok fine, I’ll stop now.
Seriously though, he made the best ever strawberry jam (although my version is pretty great too), apricot jam and date jam…that DATE JAM! …sigh… They were just incomparable to anything else. I think what made them so superior to commercial jams was the amount of sugar in them; he used a ratio of 500g sugar to every 1kg of fruit, which is 50%, as opposed to the staggering 2kg of sugar to every 1kg of fruit that was -and still is- the norm for most people I know. That is 200% sugar you guys! YIKES! Any hopes of flavour in that poor fruit would be undoubtedly destroyed and obliterated beyond recognition.
Another reason I loved my father’s jams so much, was the simplicity of the ingredients he used; just fruit, sugar and lemon juice. No pectin, gelatine or setting agents of any sorts, which resulted in a more syrupy, loose and natural outcome, as opposed to the more solid, gelatinous and jelly like store-bought stuff. Some people like their jams jiggly…not me, not I. I love it all loose and drippy and sexy…
A few years ago, I was in the North Coast of Egypt for the summer and we were staying with my husband’s family, and I tasted plum jam for the first time. My husband’s cousin’s wife’s mother (wowzers) makes homemade jams, and had brought some to the house as a gift. It simply blew me away! For a while I couldn’t even figure out what sort of jam it was because of the gorgeous complexity of flavour and deep berry-like colour. I asked her for the recipe and was pleasantly surprised with the fact that she uses pretty much the EXACT same method my father does. I made it several times since them, and it always turns out just sensational.
So, in my constant quest to reduce my sugar intake, I wondered if I can go even lower with my sugar to fruit jam ratio. The 500g sugar content was wonderful, but my tastebuds have changed and evolved from limiting my sugar consumption and I have grown extremely sensitive to it; I no longer enjoy things that are overly sweet and prefer tasting the actual fruit more. I did some research about the minimum amount of sugar needed to make jam, and the most conclusive thing I could find suggested that going less than 30% would make it too unstable.
You see, the sugar used in jam is not just to sweeten the fruit, but it is essential for giving it a longer shelf-life. It acts as a preservative and prevents it from going mouldy or decomposing. The high sugar content of jams is why you can keep them in your pantry, and not have to store them in the fridge. However, I do not make large quantities of jam at home and always keep it in the fridge anyway, so this doesn’t matter much to me…so I decided to push the limit even further, seeing how beautifully ripe and sweet the fruit I would be using is.
I made it with only 250g (25%) sugar and it turned out fabulous. I am even tempted to go slightly lower the next time I make it – I am thinking 15%-20% would be even more delicious. The flesh of the plums is so incredibly sweet, while the skin has a lovely tartness to it, so the jam is so wonderfully balanced and utterly addictive! …And would you just LOOK at that STUNNING COLOUR!
Moving on to the process, it is really pretty simple. Nothing complicated nor intimidating about it. You cut your fruit to the desired size; I like leaving the plums in halves because I adore having large pieces of fruit in my jam…you can chop them up smaller if you like. You add the sugar and let them macerate for a while until the sugar dissolves and the fruit release its juices – this takes about an hour or so, but you can do this part and leave it overnight.
Then, you cook the jam on a low flame until it starts to develop a bright pink foam on the surface. You must be careful not to get impatient and resist turning the heat up or you will end up scorching the bottom and burning the jam (been there, done that, threw a tantrum, still ate it). You remove as much of the foam as you can with a spoon into a bowl and
lick it all up when nobody is watching discard it. Don’t worry too much about getting ALL the foam, that is impossible.
You add some lemon juice and cook, stirring every few minutes for about 10 minutes until slightly thicker and syrupy and you are done! If you don’t like your jam to be too syrupy, you may choose to remove some of the syrup and bottle it up separately to use on pancakes or whatnot. I wouldn’t bother honestly.
Now it’s time to spoon the jam into your warm sterilised jars while everything is still super hot. Sterilising jars is simple, there are several methods to choose from. I like using the classic boiling method and then transferring them to the oven (on low heat) to keep them warm while I finish making the jam.
Now you let it cool and enjoy it as you please!
I just LOVE this jam with crepes and pancakes, but my absolute favourite way to eat it is spread over Homemade Labneh on toast, like so:
Scientific studies have found conclusive evidence that there is, in fact, no better breakfast on earth.
- • 1 kg red plums
- • 250g sugar of choice (I used raw cane sugar)
- • Juice of half a large lemon or 1 small (about 2-3tbsp.)
- Wash, pit and slice the plums into halves or quarters. Put them in a large stainless-steel or enamelled pot and add the sugar. Toss to distribute the sugar through the fruit, cover the pot and leave it for half an hour or up to overnight to allow the fruit to macerate and release its juices and the sugar to dissolve. Do not refrigerate.
- When you are ready to cook the jam, sterilise the jars you will be using to store the jam using your preferred method. I simply wash the jars and their lids with warm soapy water, rinse, then place the wet jars and their lids onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and place the tray in an oven preheated to 130 degrees C (270F) for at least 20 minutes; leave them in there while you make the jam, as you will need the jars to be hot once the jam is ready. This recipe yields about 600-750ml of jam so prepare enough jars accordingly.
- Take the lid off the pot and place it on the stove on a low heat (DO NOT turn up the heat to high or you will scorch the bottom and burn the jam). Cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until a foam starts to form, about 10-15 minutes. Using a large spoon, skim as much foam as you can off the jam and discard. Don’t worry too much about getting all of it, just as much as you can manage.
- Add the lemon juice, and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until thickened slightly and syrupy.
- IF USING JARS WITH METAL SCREW-TOP LIDS: While the jam is still hot, remove the jars carefully from the oven, making sure not to touch the insides of the jars or their lids, or you will introduce bacteria all over again. Ladle the hot jam into the hot jars, screw the lids on immediately and flip the closed jars upside down onto a tray and leave them to cool (you have to do this while the jam is super hot, so don’t wait till you’ve filled all the jars to start putting the lids on; close each jar quickly as you go). Once cooled completely, store the jars in the fridge* This method creates a tight seal and a vacuum which will mean the jam will last longer before spoiling.
- IF USING FLIP-TOP JARS OR ONES WITH CLIP-ON GLASS LIDS: While the jam is still hot, remove the jars carefully from the oven, making sure not to touch the insides of the jars or their lids, or you will introduce bacteria all over again. Ladle the hot jam into the hot jars and leave to cool completely before putting the lids on. Store in fridge.
• DO NOT double the quantities and make a double batch of this jam (or jam in general) - it just won't cook as well or effectively, and will GREATLY increase the cooking time and chances of burning.