It’s winter in Europe and although most grapes are harvested from late August to October, some varieties are harvested throughout autumn (known as late harvest varieties). In cold areas like Germany, some grapes can be harvested as late as January – and are used for ice wine. This time of the year also calls for lots of celebration. We recently had a birthday celebration at JAN for a lovely gentleman who was celebrating his 50th with a group of his closest friends. As most of you know, cooking is not where it stops for me – it’s about the entire process. I find as much pleasure in doing the flowers (or in this case grapes) for the dining room as I do developing and preparing the menu.
Boxes of grapes and plums found their way to the table for this evening – so voluptuous, it was almost unbearable. Beauty everywhere, like a Rembrandt painting illuminated by candlelight – with fine crystal glassware glistening in the highlights of the dancing flames. The dinner party was so festive that it seemed as if even the chairs had a hangover the next morning.
Those boxes of fruit were destined for another purpose, however, and the moment they came off the tables they went straight into my big copper preserve pot that I picked up for a bargain at the local vintage market. They were simmered into a tangy jam with a dash of ginger and port. This has become my somewhat new obsession – plum, grape and port jam on slightly burnt toast to get me sweet enough for the cold-but-sunshiny days on the French riviera. Let’s get JAMMING!
3 kg super ripe plums
1 kg red grapes, seedless
8 tsp ground ginger
2 cups of Port
2 kg sugar
4 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 cinnamon sticks
Juice of 2 limes
a knob of butter
Wash the plums and grapes. Remove the stalks. Make sure the plums are ripe – the riper the plums the better the jam! Use a fruit knife to cut the plums vertically in half. Twist open and remove the stones. Place the fruit, lime juice, sugar and fresh ginger in a large mixing bowl, cover and macerate overnight. In a large jam pot – or deep, heavy based pot – combine all the ingredients (except the butter and cinnamon) and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Stir continuously until sugar has dissolved. Add the butter to reduce frothing. This also adds a dash of richness to the jam, which I love. Add the cinnamon. Continue stirring until the jam reaches setting point. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can place a teaspoon of jam on a cold saucer. Allow to cool, then push with your finger through the jam. It should start to congeal and wrinkle up. If it is still runny, return the pot to the heat and continue cooking for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks. Remove from heat and gently pour into clean, sterilised, warm jars. Check for air bubbles and remove. Seal while jars are still warm.