A Taste of Two Islands: Blackberry Jam and Lilikoi Custard

I was born in the land where palm trees sway, where the ocean feels like bath water, and the Goddess Laka set the thermostat to 27°C.  Anything hotter or colder would make the flowers unhappy.

Hawaii is the ultimate melting pot. Perhaps this is why its cuisine is so delicious or what the locals call ono. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, people from all over the world sailed to Hawaii’s sandy shores, each of them bringing the flavours of home.

Labourers were needed to work the sugarcane fields and pineapple plantations. Many came from Portugal, Puerto Rico, China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.  My paternal great-grandparents were among them.  My maternal family from Iowa came for different reasons.  Like the Blues brothers, they were on a mission from God.  Quite literally as my grandparents were Southern Baptist missionaries.

When my aunt and uncle lived in Hawaii Kai, they always had two things in their backyard–a stray ginger cat called Gus and an abundance of lilikoi. Lilikoi is what Hawaiians call passion fruit. They are red or yellow; the latter tend to be sharper and more acidic. You can add them to cream based desserts for a distinctly tropical note like I’ve done in this recipe here. 

Though I have long known that I enjoy eating lilikoi custard, it wasn’t until I moved to London that I realised how much I like it on buttermilk biscuits with blackberry jam. Bramble season in the UK is August through September. This is why I like to stock my freezer full of berries, so I can use them the whole year through.

Below are my recipes for lilikoi custard and a quick blackberry jam. Though the distance between Honolulu and London is 7,223 miles, I can bring their flavours closer together on a plate.

Ingredients for lilikoi custard:

300ml milk

100ml double cream

½ tsp vanilla bean paste

4 egg yolks

75 to 100g of caster sugar (depending on how sweet you like it and how tart your fruit is)

1 tbsp corn flour

3 to 4 lilikoi (3 fl oz. of juice and 2 tsp of processed seeds/pulp)

 

Method for the lilikoi custard:

First, put the lilkoi in a food processor and pulse. Strain the juice from the seeds. I like to do this with cheesecloth, but of course a fine mesh sieve will work.

In a saucepan, combine the cream and milk over a low heat. When small bubbles appear on the sides, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until it looks like a fluffy paste.  Then incorporate the corn flour.  Whisk this mixture into the cream.  Add the passion fruit juice and 2 tsp of the seeds/pulp.

Place the saucepan back on a medium-low heat and continue whisking. When the custard thickens, remove it from the heat and set it aside. Once it has cooled a bit, cover it with plastic wrap. Make sure to press the clingfilm right against the custard, otherwise a skin will form. Put it in the refrigerator to chill completely. 

Lilikoi custard

Ingredients for quick blackberry jam:

300 g frozen blackberries

the juice of half a lemon and one small orange

120 g granulated sugar

 

Method for quick blackberry jam:

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Warm them on low and stir until the sugar is all dissolved. When you can no longer feel any grains of sugar, turn up the heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Allow it to simmer until reduced by half. You don’t want it too thick, just set enough that it won’t slide off your biscuit. When it is ready, pot the jam in a jar and allow it to cool to room temperature. Keep it in the refrigerator and use it within two weeks.

Quick blackberry jam

Rhubarb and Strawberry Sunday

 

I love the Home Counties.  For me, they hold great charm.  Village fêtes, farm shops, afternoons sipping cider at the pub, bake sales, plant sales, hedgehog sanctuaries, Sunday lunch, cricket teas, thirsty vicars, vintage cars, and the scent of wood burning fires wherever you go.

Walking past Shardeloes en route to The Red Lion makes me feel like I am deep in the country. The truth, though, is that I am only an hour outside of London.  It’s brilliant and gives me a proper excuse to wear my wellies without looking like a knob.

This weekend in the Garden of Eatin’ (that’s what I call my in-laws’ backyard as it is so full of edible goodness), my daughter explained the difference between bluebells and forget-me-nots to her stuffed friend, Little Bear.  There was also an overabundance of rhubarb. When my mother-in-law asked me to help by cutting it for her, I was happy to be of service.

8 jars of jam and a crumble to be eaten later tonight was our yield.  And to think, there’s still plenty left.

Below is my recipe for today’s rhubarb and strawberry jam.  The strawberries I used were not our own, but they were British (Honi soit qui mal y pense) and came from 2 of the home counties–Kent and Berkshire.

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Ingredients:

3 lbs rhubarb, cut into 1″ pieces

1 lb strawberries, halved

juice of 2 lemons

1 cup apple juice

1.2 kg sugar

1 tbsp butter

 

Method: 

First, place a small plate in the freezer.  This is so you can test your jam later to see if it’s set.

Wash then sterilize your jars by placing them on a tray in a warm oven.

Place the rhubarb, lemon juice, and apple juice in a maslin pan.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.  The reason for this is twofold. 1) Rhubarb takes longer to cook than strawberries.  2) Both rhubarb and strawberries have such low pectin that the addition of apple juice, which naturally has high pectin, will help your jam set.

Turn off the heat and stir in the berries and the sugar.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Turn the heat back on and bring everything to a boil.

Test for a set by placing a bit of the molten mixture on your frozen plate.  Place the plate back in the freezer.  Remove it after a few minutes.  If the jam crinkles when you push it with your finger, then it has set.  If not, continue cooking for a few more minutes and test again.  Be sure to turn off the heat each time you test for a set.  You do not want to overcook your jam.

Once a desired set has been achieved, stir in the butter.  This will prevent your jam from being scummy.

Let the jam cool for at least 5 minutes before potting it in warm jars.

 

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Ginger Peach Jam

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring,

and because it has fresh peaches in it. 

~Alice Walker 

Ripe peaches are among my top reasons for living.  Soft, sweet, lightly floral, and full of juice.  They are a testament to the fact that perfection can be found in the simplest things.  First cultivated in ancient China, peaches were believed to have magical properties like immortality.  Emperors loved them.  Thousands of years later, so did western royalty.  Plantagenet King John is said to have perished after consuming a surfeit of peaches.  In T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the main character asks himself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?”  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for taking a bite out of life.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for having the woman he desires.  No matter the interpretation, Prufrock’s peach definitely represents what my husband refers to as the English danger of having too much fun.  For Roald Dahl, a peach was the vehicle that whisked James away from his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge.

No matter how you cut it, a ripe peach is magical.  Though perfect on its own, I like to try to capture its fragrance and keep its magic a little longer than just the summer season.  That’s why I have been making buckets of ginger peach jam.  As peaches can be so sweet, I find the ginger adds a bit of fire and also refinement.  It provides structure for what could otherwise be a cloying mess.  Also, I like the idea of adding Chinese ginger to my peaches, even if my fruit happens to come from Kent or Spain.  Below is my recipe.

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Ingredients:

peaches (I use about 2 kg)

caster sugar

preserving sugar (as peaches have a really low pectin content)

the juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Method:

Peel and slice the peaches. Weigh them.  Set aside in a large jam pan.

Add 60% of the peaches’ weight in sugar.  I use a mix of caster and preserving sugar–only about 200g of the latter.  Be sure to taste your mixture.  You don’t want it too sweet but it won’t set if it doesn’t have at least 60% sugar.

Next stir in the lemon juice and ginger.

Mash everything lightly. Warm over a low heat.  Once the sugars have dissolved, turn up the heat and stir constantly.

Never let the temperature pass 104F which is the setting point for jam.  Test for a set with the cold plate method.  When the jam has achieved your desired set, stir in the butter (it’ll help keep your jam from looking scummy), and let cool for a few minute before putting in sterilized jars.

Serve on toast, pancakes or over vanilla ice cream for a real treat.  I must say if you want this as an ice cream topping, it’s best to not have a really thick set.  Runnier is better in this case.  Also, this jam is delicious if used in the middle of shortbread thumb print cookies.

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La Tupina, Sheep’s Cheese, and Cherry Jam

Off the quai in Bordeaux, between St. Michel and Ste. Croix where George is still slaying a dragon, there exists a street called rue Porte de la Monnaie.  At the top of it is an arch and down it a restaurant that is now my favorite in France.  Its name is La Tupina which means the cauldron and how fitting as the place is filled with many of them. george pont de pierre Several Sundays ago I stood under gray skies on the edge of the Garonne taking in the Pont de Pierre and picking wildflowers along the banks to compliment my outfit.  Sure, it was lovely pretending to be Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and hearing Fred Astaire on a loop in my head, but mostly I was killing time with my husband before a much anticipated lunch. hotel room We didn’t know what to expect.  The reviews we read had been so mixed.  In Fiona Beckett’s 2012 review, she said she detected a slight sense of ennui in Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis.  She also described “the kitschness of the place” by saying “If Disney were to recreate south-west French food, it would look like La Tupina.”  Then again, former restaurant critic for The Times, Jonathan Meades, loves the place and has named it his favorite restaurant. When the clock at the local church struck one, my husband and I looked at each other.  Neither of us asked for whom the bell tolled.  We just took each other’s hands and then a chance on lunch at La Tupina. arch After crossing the street and passing under the arch, we saw an old man walking a white cat on a leash.  If black cats are bad luck then this sighting had to be good.  The old man smiled at us and tipped his hat just as my husband opened the restaurant door. outside window From the moment I entered, I saw everything La Tupina had to offer.  Literally.  As the heart of the restaurant is laid bare for all to see.  A giant chimney for smoking, an enormous hearth for roasting, a generous countertop laden with meat and baskets of produce that would be used up by closing time. Many restaurants open up their kitchens to give an element of theatre to their diners, but I always feel it’s a bit contrived.  Not at La Tupina.  Nothing about it evokes the high pressure of a celebrity chef’s kitchen or a televised cooking competition.  On the contrary, the mise en scène there was warm and welcoming.  Like walking into the kitchen of a French friend’s grandmother.  It was charming and not at all like anything I’ve ever experienced at Disneyland. waiter2 Once seated, we ordered glasses of champagne.  They arrived with the silkiest most savory rillettes.  Next we had white asparagus with vinaigrette.  For the main course, my husband had duck breast that had been cooked in the chimney.  I opted for the Noir de Bigorre, which was a plate-sized chop from a black thoroughbred pig whose history in the region can be traced back to Roman times.  This tender fatty pig was served perfectly pink with a single roasted garlic clove on top, salad and mashed potatoes on the side.  It was so delicious I stopped caring about the couple next to us who were making fun of us in French for having ordered a half-bottle of wine instead of a whole.  NB: Just because I’m American and my husband is a plummy Englishman does not mean my schoolgirl French isn’t good enough to know when you’re mocking me.  But like I said, lunch was so good their rudeness didn’t detract.  At least not much.

For pudding I had walnut ice cream.  It was served with walnut liqueur that tasted of the best amontillado sherry.  My husband indulged in a plate of local ewes’ and goats’ milk cheeses.  They were served with strawberry jam.  After the consumption of which, he couldn’t refuse our waitress’ offer of armagnac.  “Higher alcohol content is better for aiding digestion,” she said. wine henry cannele fraises The food at La Tupina could never be called haute cuisine nor nouvelle.  It’s better than that.  It’s classic and nothing about its legacy is as ephemeral as foam.  Dishes of the region are its specialty.  They are tried and true and as old and delicious as the pigs of Roman times.  Lunch at La Tupina is history on a plate.

Jonathan Meades has noted the “ewes’ milk curd with berry jam” among his favorite dishes at La Tupina.  Having tasted it myself, I see why.  It’s the perfect marriage of sweet and savory.  The book he’s presently working on, The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, includes Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis’ recipe for Poulet à l’oignon.  I hope it will also include a few more.  Like that jam recipe.  Until then, here is my recipe for cherry jam.  It’s wonderful on toast and also with sheep’s cheese from Southwest France.  Serve it on a Scottish oat cake with a slice of Ossau Iraty and there you have the flavors of the Auld Alliance.  A snack worthy of Mary, Queen of Scots and a marriage far happier than her own.  I hope you enjoy it.

Cherry Jam

Ingredients: 

2 kg cherries (I used 1kg from spain and 1kg from Kent.  I like to mix mine for different flavor notes.)

the juice and zest of 2 lemons

1.3 kg sugar

a candy thermometer or a cold plate in the fridge (I use both)

Method: Wash and dry your cherries.  Then pit them and cut them in half.  Macerate them slightly with a bit of the sugar.  I use a few tablespoons.  Next, transfer them to a large maslin pan. Add your thermometer to the pan.  Cook the cherries over low heat until they are tender.  When they are, stir in the sugar and lemon.  Keep the heat on low and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Once it is, bring the fruit mixture to a rolling boil.  Be sure to stir it so the fruit doesn’t stick and also be careful about bringing the heat up too high.  You don’t want to burn your fruit.  When the mixture thickens and goes glossy or when it is about 102ºC, test the setting point.  Pull your cold plate out of the fridge and put a small teaspoon of jam on it.  Wait a minute before pushing it with your finger.  If it wrinkles like jam, then it’s set.  If it doesn’t, give your mixture a few more minutes of cooking time.  Do not let your mixture pass 104ºC.  This is the setting point of jam.  If you pass this temperature, you’ll end up with glue.  Nobody wants to eat glue.  When your jam is ready, take it off the heat and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes.  Finally, pour the jam into sterilized jars and store. 2kg cherries jam fairy jars jam close up toast cheese and jam