I work on jams and preserves in between a photo shooting and an article or some fruitful recipe testing. There’s a corner of my stove which is usually occupied by a big cast iron pot, where jams or preserves simmer relentlessly, notwithstanding the time of the year.
I became preserving-addicted about two years ago, when I moved on my own. I felt like a Queen, my tiny apartment in the countryside looked like a manor to my proud eyes: I finally had my kitchen, my dining room with a bookshelf crammed with cookbooks and, more importantly, a pantry, which happens to be my favourite room in the house since I was a child. If normal children make plans on how to turn their bedrooms into a princess’ tower or a superhero’s cave, I used to fantasize about the pantry. How to make it bigger, how to store more jars of summer tomatoes and autumn jams, how to label efficiently each jar. Wether the dim light or the dusty dry smell, I always had a sense of comfort and protection when entering into my mum’s or grandma’s pantry.
Hours spent peeling and deseeding tomatoes had as an output a whole shelf burdened with glistening jars of tomato puree: they would assure us pasta con la pomarola, pizza and stews for the whole winter. My grandma’s pantry was – and still is – mysterious and almost magical. She could find everything you’d need there, Mary Poppins style. Out of her overfilled pantry she could always produce a jar of mushrooms in oil or dried black olives with orange zest, which would turn a simple piece of grilled beef into a masterpiece. The ingenious creativity of cucina povera relies in their pantry and their vegetable garden.
I must certainly have inherited the DNA of the women of my family: during summer I have a physical urge to make preserves for the winter in order to save in a jar the sweet fruit of the sunny months. When it is winter, I make marmalades and jellies to bring the citrus with me up to the end of summer. It’s a virtuous circle. When my grandma was a child, they used to make enormous jars of jams to sustain children through winter with sugar, calories and energy, thinly spread on bread as afternoon break.
Do I still need jams to survive through winter? Believe me, I don’t. Do we eat all the jams I make? No, it would be impossible.
Tommaso has his favourite jams spread on toast in the morning, sometimes I keep him company and share a toast with him, but this barely breaks into our provisions. Most of the jam jars become Christmas gifts, last minute presents when I visit friends, ‘thank you cards’ for my father when he mends something in the house or for my grandma when she helps me with the cleaning after a class or with some cooking. A jar of jam can save a dinner becoming a crostata with some pasta frolla that I always keep in the freezer for the emergencies.
Making jam is also a therapeutic activity and a way to mark the passing of time, to respect nature’s production and to celebrate seasonality.
Confettura di mele cotogne – Quince jam
When Rita, our neighbor, brought to my grandma a basket full of quinces, she came along with a recipe to make quince jam, too. The day after my grandma welcomed me in her house with a jar containing a coral red compote and a tiny silver spoon to taste it: seconds later I was in my kitchen washing the fuzzy fruit under running water to make this über simple recipe. Thank you Rita for the quinces, for the recipe and for supporting my preserving-addiction.
- 1 kg of cored quinces
- 1 apple
- 1 lemon
- 300 g of sugar
- 200 ml of water
- The day before wash quinces under running water until shining and not more fuzzy. Do not peel them, but simply chop the quinces removing the harder core.
- Collect all the chopped quinces in a bowl and cover them with sugar. Squeeze a lemon into the bowl, cover with clingfilm and set aside overnight at room temperature. This procedure will soften the quinces, making it easier to turn them into a jam.
- The day after transfer the chopped quinces and their juice in a large pot, add a peeled and cored apple cut into cubes, the water and bring to a simmer. Cook for half an hour on low flame, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent it from burning and to break the quinces into smaller pieces. If the jam gets too dry add some water while cooking. Cook until quinces fall apart. If you like a smoother jam use an immersion blender.
- The quince jam will be ready when coral red and quite thick.
- Pour the jam into sterilized jars and close them tight. Put the jars in a large pot and cover with water: bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat. Let the jars cool completely in the pot, then remove them from water. You can store them for several months in a dry, cool and dark place.
- A very informative article on quinces, their history and their natural properties, with recipes and funny facts, can be found here on Candida Martinelli’s Italophile Site. Did you know that when they are cooked, they change color? The longer you cook them, the darker red they become. Look at the beautiful colour I got with this jam!
- Check also this article from The Splendid Table on quinces. A bit of legend from here: many suppose that the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden was a quince. In Greek legend Helen of Troy bribed Paris to award a quince to Aphrodite as the prize in a beauty contest, starting the Trojan War.
- If you opt for cotognata, a thick jelly you can slice and serve with cheese, you can find a recipe here on the blog.
- Check also this recipe by Lidia Bastianich for cunja, a quince and hazelnut chutney from Piedmont. Quince is a primary ingredient but cunja incorporates the indigenous flavors of late autumn in Piemonte: the local San Martino pears, the mosto of pressed nebbiolo grapes, and its famed hazelnuts.