Nothing compares to the taste of organically grown fresh produce from your own garden. It is seasonal, it has ripened naturally, and made it to your table with the smallest ecological footprint possible.
But if the bounty is large you may be left with a lot even after you have shared it with friends, family, neighbours, and house help. That is when you fall back on the age old methods for preserving fresh produce. Sun-drying, and freezing are the easiest.
Mango pulp, usually from commercially non-marketable fruit, is sun-dried in India into aampapad. Both unripe and ripe mangoes are used for this. The sweet pulp from ripened mangoes is sundried to make the yellow and sweet aampapad. Unripe mangoes produce the black sour aampapad that was a daily indulgence in our childhood. I remember the one inch square pieces of it, individually packed with a tiny pouch of chat masala (Indian spiced salt) that we would buy from our daily allowance of 10 paise in our childhood. What a mouth-puckeringly delicious treat it was. Now TH sources his yearly 5 kilos from some obscure place in Old Delhi. Yes, you read right – five kilos of it! There’s a child in all of us that survives despite all the horrors of adulthood.
In both cases the pulp is dried, usually on a chattai (grass mat) in successive layers. Both the sour and sweet aampapads have their aficionados. In our house it is the sour tangy one that rules.
Mango pulp can also be frozen for later use in mango shakes, smoothies, and ice creams. I have frozen as much pulp as my limited freezer space allowed. I even tried to economize on the space by freezing in slim rectangular boxes, and then transferring the frozen blocks to freezer bags.
Usually I also make a little bit of mango jam with the bounty of mangoes and limes at my disposal. This year I made two batches since I was trying to use up the mangoes at their peak and yet have my parents enjoy some when they return from their long visit with my sister’s family.
You can make quick jam combining the fruit of your choice, with sugar, and reducing it a little. If it is to be refrigerated and consumed within a couple of weeks, you needn’t worry about the fruit-sugar ratio, setting point, and sealing the jars so much. But if it is to preserve the fruit so that you may enjoy it over the whole year till it is time for fresh kind again, then you need to worry about the science of it somewhat.
Some things to keep in mind:
Use fruit that is firm and only just ripe (may be mixed with some fully ripe fruit); but not over-ripe fruit. The flavours are going to concentrate as the jam reduces, and you want it to be the best.
Use a heavy bottom non-reactive pan for cooking the jam. All basins and bowls you need for keeping or measuring prepared fruit should also be of non-reactive material (such as glass, plastic, steel, earthenware, or enamel). The same goes for sieves and strainers (if used) – nylon ones being the best.
A sugar thermometer, though by no means essential, can be handy for gauging the setting point of jam. Most jams reach setting point around 105 C (220 F) – but double check with one more test.
While one could always use special jars made for bottling, there is nothing wrong with using jars that previously stored other things. Just clean them with soap and hot water, and sterilize in boiling water before use. Covering the jam with wax discs or greaseproof paper before securing the cap provides additional protection from mold.
(Makes about 2 kilo)
4 C prepared mango pulp
zest, juice, and pips of 5 fresh limes (about 1 C juice)
1 ¼ C water
4 C sugar
Preparing the fruit:
Peel the mangoes. Chop the juicy pulp into thin dice. I hold the peeled mango is my left hand, score it all the way to the stone (crisscrossing), and then remove the pulp in slivers, over the measuring cup. Flip the mango, and repeat. Remove the rest of the pulp shaving off with the knife till you have a clean stone. Tip the measured pulp into the heavy-bottom pan that you will be using for cooking the jam.
I like to have little bits of fruit in my jam so the rough chopping works for me. If you prefer smooth jam, then puree the fruit.
Zest the limes. Halve and juice them. Collect all the pips, tie in a small bundle using a scrap of muslin, and throw into the pan along with the juice and the zest.
Softening the fruit:
Add water to the pan and bring the contents to boil. Simmer gently till the fruit is reduced to a pulp, about 20 minutes (it should reduce by a third). There is no need to stir during this step.
Water is added to the fruit depending on its juiciness, type of pan (wide mouth versus narrow), and the amount of fruit. Mangoes are quite juicy and need a moderate addition of water. Apples need more, while very juicy fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, and rhubarb need no water at all for pre-cooking.
Pectin is needed for the proper setting of jam. Fruits low in pectin will need addition of lime juice or other fruits that are rich in pectin (or the addition of commercial pectin which I know nothing about). While I have never performed the pectin test to determine the pectin level of mangoes, I do add lime zest, pips, and juice which help the jam on its way to setting properly.
The peel, juice, and pips of limes, lemons, and most other citrus fruits are rich in pectin. The juice and the zest also enhance the flavour of the mango jam besides adding stunning slivers of lime green to the deep orange glow of the jam. Every time I bite into a peel, I taste the additional burst of citrus flavour and a hint of marmalade.
Before adding sugar, remove the pip-bundle from the cooked fruit. Give it a squeeze to extract all the thick pectin, and discard.
Turn the heat up and add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly, till all the sugar has been incorporated. The jam should not stop boiling through this entire step. Boil rapidly till the setting point is reached (about 20-30 minutes, or till the sugar thermometer reads 105 C), stirring only to prevent the jam from scorching. Remove from heat and check for setting.
Too little boiling will result in poor setting; too much boiling and the jam will become sticky and dark, and lose much of its flavour.
While you may be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar, don’t. This is the absolute minimum that is needed to prepare a fruit preserve. Again, the amount of sugar needed depends on the fruit. Finished jam should be 60% sugar for it to not ferment. The quantity of sugar is also critical to the proper setting of the jam. Too little sugar will prevent the jam from setting properly; too much will do the same besides also ruining the fruity flavour. Most packaged jams in India have too much sugar; the ones with better fruit to sugar ratio call themselves ‘fruit preserves’ and command a much higher price.
Low-sugar jams should be made in small quantities for quicker consumption. Their shelf life can be improved by using bottling jars that have been sterilized in boiling water for 5 minutes.
Testing for setting point:
The easiest of all tests is the plate test. Allow a little jam to cool on a cold plate – I keep a plate in the freezer, put some jam on it, and put it back in the freezer for a minute. If a skin forms on the surface and can be pushed with a finger the setting point has been reached. If not, return to heat and boil for a few more minutes, and test again.
Let the jam stand for a few minutes. Remove any scum with a slotted spoon. Pour the hot jam into clean and dry jars all the way to the top. Wipe any drips, and cover the jam with a wax-disc or greaseproof paper. Or failing all, with cling film (as is the case with yours truly), the idea being to prevent the jam from coming in contact with air. Cap tightly and store. If you are not certain of your sealing abilities, refrigerate the preserve.
Every spoon full of this jam is filled with the concentrated flavour of the Amrapali mango. Spread on buttered toast, dilute with a little warm water to serve with ice cream, or use in trifle pudding – any which way you use it you are going to be reminded of the sunny Indian summer.
And this is my entry for Meeta’s Monthly Mingle; her theme this month is Earth Food.
The mango and lime trees, the fruits of which were made into this jam grow in my parents’ backyard and were planted by my father. The yard is also the recharge area for all the rainwater from their house; it will flood temporarily during a heavy storm, and then all the water just soaks into the ground. The trees have not really been watered since they were established; they are completely rain-fed. They are pruned a little once a year and have never been sprayed with pesticides. The yard also has a small compost pit into which goes all the garden and kitchen waste. Cow-dung manure is the main fertilizer for this small city garden.