Jams and chutneys are such good Christmas presents. At this time of year, I turn to Thane Prince’s classic book ‘Perfect Preserves‘ for some inspiration. It’s a book suitable for both beginners and more experienced cooks. Each chapter takes a model recipe, explains the method in detail and then gives variations on the theme. For example, the jam chapter starts with a classic recipe for raspberry jam and then goes on to give recipes for other jams such as greengage jam and banana and lime jam. Other chapters include marmalade, fruit curds, pickles, and liqueurs and cordials.
The recipes are authoritative. It’s as if you can hear Thane calmly but firmly talking you through what to do from her nstructions on exactly how to sterilise jam jars (20 mins in the oven at 120C) to knowing when a fruit butter is cooked, (it will stay heaped on a spoon).
Adding fig and onion marmalade to a weekday lunch of cheese on toast transforms the ordinary into something quite special. The figs do make it feel especially Christmassy and using dried figs means you can make it any time of year.
The mango and lemon chutney and the peach and pomegranate chutney are also great and will cheer up a humble jacket potato. Chutneys are easy as it’s the chopping up of all the ingredients that takes the time. Then it’s a case of cooking everything together until the mixture has thickened and the vinegar has boiled away.
Although I’ve always made jam, I hadn’t ever made a ketchup. This blackberry ketchup is glossy and an engaging claret colour.
Last, but definitely not least, the apricot conserve is my absolute favourite out of everything in the book. I’ve given it to friends as presents and they have come back to me begging for the recipe. It craftily uses dried apricots, (get them cheaply at Lidl) and the pistachios and the brandy added at the end make it into something really luxurious and high end. It’s especially good on ricotta pancakes and with this in the cupboard, who needs to go out for brunch?
There’s still so many recipes I want to try. Before Christmas, I am going to use up our apple mountain by making spiced apple butter and make pink grapefruit marmalade now we have depleted our stock of Seville marmalade. Next year I am planning gooseberry and elderflower curd in the summer, and I am also intrigued by curried aubergine chutney and giardiniera in the pickles chapter.
It’s the book that keeps on giving.