Archive for the ‘Jam’ Category


Egg-shaped and smooth, Italian plums, or Zwetschken, have a bluish-purple skin and yellow flesh that gradually darkens as the fruit ripens. It is easy to remove the pit; in fruit parlance they are freestone. Thursday I had the pleasure of picking two kilos here in town.

Italian plums are the most widespread variety of plum in Austria. In addition to referring to Prunus domestica var. domestica/oeconomica, the word Zwetschken is sometimes used as a catchall phrase to refer to all subspecies of Prunus domestica. They are enjoyed fresh, baked in cakes, hidden in dumplings (see my recipe for Marillenknödel – simply substitute an Italian plum for an apricot), fermented to make Slibowitz or Zwetschkenschnaps (plum brandy), or transformed into Zwetschkenröster, a traditional compote made of stewed Italian plums.

This drupe is integrated not only into the cuisine but also into the language. Mein lieber Freund und Zwetschkenröster (my dear friend and stewed Italian plums) is an Austrian expression used as a warning to address someone whose behavior you find increasingly irritating. It’s a way of saying “I’d watch it if I were you.” If you have your seven plums together (seine sieben Zwetschken beinander haben), it means you have your act together.

Well, this weekend I got my seven plums together and made jam by myself for the first time, independent of the neighborhood jam-making guild as I did the first and second time. I feel I have now earned the right to the title of master jam-maker, or Marmeladen-Meisterin! My first batch was Ringlottenmarmelade, my second a variation on Zwetschkenröster with red wine, cinnamon, and cloves. Ringlotten are a kind of plum that I will describe in more detail in my next post, but now after all this action in the kitchen, I am plum(b) tired. Here are pictures of the fruit of my labor this weekend. And now it is time to stop before the puns get any worse…


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Jam Journeywoman

Today the neighborhood jam-makers’ guild met once again, this time to process 2 kilos of sour cherries and 2 kilos of apricots. Using the same 2:1 ratio of fruit to sugar as we did two weeks ago, we came up with the following variations:

Sour cherry and lemon verbena (3 jars)

Sour cherry and walnut (3 jars)

Apricot (2 jars)

Apricot-lavender (2 jars)

Apricot-lemon verbena (1 jar)

The walnuts were toasted and then cooked with the jam; the herbs were chopped and placed in the jar before the hot jam was poured over them.

My previous jam-making post elicited some concern from a few readers because of our method of sealing the jars by igniting a thin layer of rum, putting on the lids, and inverting the jars. The consensus of the jam-makers’ guild is that nothing is certain and that there is always a risk that the jam may turn moldy. However, our eyes, noses, and taste buds are normally capable of sensing if food has gone bad, in which case we would dispose of the jam instead of eating it.

You should be familiar with sour cherries from my previous post but what about apricots? Though the apricot tree originated in Mongolia and not in Armenia, as its name Prunus armeniaca would indicate, it has a special place in Armenian culture. Cultivated in the Caucasus since at least 6000 BC, its wood is used to make the duduk, a double-reed instrument also called tsiranapogh, which means “apricot flute” in Armenian. Listen to Djivan Gasparyan, the world’s most famous dudek player, here.

Apricots also play a role in Austrian cuisine, most famously in Marillenknödel, or apricot dumplings, about which you’ll read more very soon. Faschingskrapfen, the jelly-filled donuts ubiquitous before the start of Lent, have an apricot-flavored filling. Apricot schnapps and apricot liqueurs are also common.

The first mention of apricots being cultivated in Austria was in 1679 in Lower Austria, the province where the Wachau is located. The Wachau refers to the Danube valley between Melk and Krems that is known for apricot and wine production. The Wachau apricot has the label Protected Designation of Origin established by the EU. Products claiming to have Wachau apricots in them must be produced, processed, and prepared in the region. This label is not to be confused with the label Protected Geographical Indication, which only requires that the food product be prepared, processed, or produced in the region – i.e. one of three steps instead of all of three. Styrian pumpkin seed oil falls into the latter category.

A study done in 2006 by the consumer protection association Verein für Konsumenteninformation revealed that of 28 jams professing to be made in Austria, one contained solely Austrian apricots, three contained a mixture of Austrian and imported apricots, and the rest contained apricots from other European countries and Turkey. Apparently it is enough for the product to be processed in Austria for it to be labeled “Made in Austria” – buyer beware! Frankly, I find this misleading advertising more troubling than the presence of mold in homemade jam. I guess the only way to be certain of the source of your jam is to find a local source of apricots and make it yourself.

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Making jam is something I had wanted to do for a long time. It is the next step along the do it yourself path in cooking that I am following. The problem was that I kept finding reasons (excuses!) why making jam wouldn’t work out. I wouldn’t get the jars clean enough; I didn’t have the requisite canning equipment; there is too much sugar involved in canning. Then I decided that first I needed to can with other people and learn from those with more expertise.

Well, today I got a phone call from my neighbor. The red currants and gooseberries in her yard were begging to be picked and – ready or not – it was time to make jam. Today. Right now. Did I have time? Was I interested? Yes!

The red currant is native to Europe. In Austria, red currants (Ribes rubrum) are called rote Ribisel. The word Ribisel is clearly related to the Latin genus name Ribes. In Germany, red currants are rote Johannisbeeren, or red John’s berries, because they become ripe around June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist. A member of the same genus, the gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) is also native to Europe. Its stems are prickly with spines (hence its name Stachelbeere in German, or spiny berry).

The first step in making jam is to obtain a large enough amount of fruit to make the canning effort pay off. Our jam team of three picked a total of 3 kilos of red currants and 1 kilo of gooseberries. Then the big decision came: what kind of jam would we make? After considering various options, we settled on three variations: gooseberry-strawberry-cinnamon, red currant-lemon balm jam, and red currant-lemon-mint jam.

Now we could finally get cooking! The berries are combined in a pot with gelling sugar, which includes pectin, in a ratio of 2 parts fruit to 1 part gelling sugar. Once the mixture is brought to a boil, it is important that it doesn’t cook too long so the gelling sugar doesn’t lose its punch. The hot jam is then poured into sterilized jars.

There are different techniques for sealing the jars. We chose the most glamorous, pyrotechnic one. First, you pour a splash of rum on top of the jam in the glass. Then you light the rum on fire. Finally, you carefully screw on the lid before turning the glass over. And that is it. No extra cooking or pressure canning.

It took us a little under four hours to pick fruit, prepare the jars, cook the jam, label the jars, and taste the results. Though the red currant-mint jam was tasty, the gooseberry-strawberry-cinnamon jam was everyone’s favorite. Since my first jam-making experience went so well, I am already dreaming about what to combine with apricots and with plums.

Making jam is a great experience to share with others, a very convivial process. What kind of jam are you going to make with your friends and neighbors this year?

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