It’s all very well turning your glut of fruit into jam – but what happens with your subsequent glut of jam? This, she confided to me during my latest visit home, was my mother’s current dilemma. Yes, she would happily make feijoa jam and crabapple jam – and yes whenever the Wheatleys came over for their monthly afternoon tea she would wheel it out with lemonade scones and whipped cream – but really, there was only so much jam an 81-year-old woman living on her own could use. And yes, of course there is jam on toast, she added, assuming her irked expression – but she didn’t really approve of that.
Quite right – there was never jam when we were growing up: jam on toast was the sort of luxury I was only able to enjoy when I stayed over at friends’ houses. Same with jam sandwiches which, while of course not remotely nutritious, are occasionally rather wickedly delicious – soft sliced white bread and butter mandatory.
But she does have a point. In my refrigerator I have several jars of jam I rarely use and possibly should even throw away; they will have been purchased for the purposes of one recipe only, on the whole (because, beautifully trained daughter that I am,I do not often succumb to toast-and-jam). Jam- making friends have over the years presented me with jars, and I always welcome them, though more for the thought and care and time poured into them than for the jams themselves.
It could be said that jam is fruit adulterated, fruit whose very benefits have simmered away through the addition of sugar and pectin, their setting agent. So – as usual my mother is right to sneer – there are no life-enhancing or health-redeeming properties to jam – but what a grim world it would be if those were the criteria with which we selected our pleasures.
Of course the challenge for me was set. I began to search my mind for jam uses, and even there at the breakfast table was brightly suggesting to my mother she make little jam tarts for the Wheatleys instead of the eternal scones (briefly forgetting the extent of her inflexibility, her fondness for routine). I was remembering the easy biscuits I used to make at a restaurant a long time ago, called Jam Pinwheels. You could make the shortcrust pastry yourself or even use a store-bought one; I have often made these with puff pastry too. Roll out the pastry and slather it thickly with jam then roll it up and cut it into 1/2 inch slices, and bake until they turn gold, the jam bubbling fragrantly. People love these and you use two ingredients only! (if you count pastry as an ingredient, that is).
There is that old-fashioned slice consisting of a layer of pastry, then jam, then a topping of desiccated coconut , egg and sugar, which is just lovely. Or – simplicity itself, again merely pastry and jam – line a fluted flan tin with shortcrust pastry, fill it entirely with jam – that might take care of a jar! – then compose a neat lattice of criss-crossing pastry strips over the top. Brush with egg yolk and bake until golden. Next time you make muffins, spoon half the mixture into the muffin mould, add a teaspoon of jam and top up with the rest of the mixture for a surprise centre. Apricot jam, thinned out with water, warmed and sieved, is perfect for brushing over a berry cheesecake topping, a glorious glaze.
To Sydney friends I served Bill Granger’s Gooey Chocolate Cake with Raspberries, a triumph of a moussey cake achingly rich with raspberry jam and its own baked-in icing. Four enraptured adults, I am ashamed to say, ate the the whole thing minus a mere two slices. And now there is another jar of residual jam in my refrigerator!