From Tree To Toast

Text and photography by Elodie Bellegarde

Making a pot of homemade jam is one of life’s little pleasures. A skill requiring devotion and patience, it is highly rewarding. The simplest jam can require as little as two ingredients: sugar and fruit. But to the adventurous cook, it is a recipe book open to flavour combinations.

Whilst the anglophile word jam suggests a preparation of preserved crushed fruits, its French counterpart, confiture, goes further by suggesting the process of candying. It explains the prime nature of jam making. The sweetened fruits are not just crushed, cooked and preserved into a glass jar; jam making is a preparation requiring the fruity paste to be cooked to an optimum point, creating a jellied syrup filled with textured and semi-candied fruits. The process was first recorded by the Roman gastronome Marcus Gavius Apicius around 1st century AD in his collection of recipes Of Culinary Matters. The Middle Ages, with its many crusades, helped popularise the delight and brought the concept from the Middle East to Europe. Le Roi Soleil, King Louis XIV later on also became a fan of the sweet spread, requesting for his to be made using fruits grown on the land of Versailles.

elodie bellegarde

I’ve been making jam for as far as my memory can take me back. I remember those long hot summer days in France waiting for the evening breeze to finally blow upon us and make the air less oppressive. We would gather around the apricot tree and harvest the golden and juicy fruits. The ripest and most imperfect ones would first catch our eyes, their flesh bursting with fructose, calling in a last attempt to be picked before hitting the ground. These would make for the most flavoursome products—a pot of jam filled with stories of the seasons and the people who made it.

Making jam is a therapeutic process. It draws people together as they search for the ripest fruits on the tree or dig through crates in market stalls. Handled with care, the fruits are often stored for a day or two as they release additional sugars. The best jam requires time. Back then, we would happily spend a whole afternoon gathered around the table, stoning the fruits and depriving them of their stalks. The fruits would then be coated in sugar and left to marinate in their saccharine juice for a day or so. It would be at that stage that more flavoursome ingredients would be added: cinnamon, vanilla bean, nuts or bergamot. The list is endless. They would give the jam that extra je ne sais quoi, a personal touch that adds to the exceptional value of an artisanal jam.

Read more in The U Press N˚4 (Singapore edition).