I am my father’s daughter when it comes to breakfast. We both like the exceptions: a croissant, steaming porridge, full English, a bacon butty with brown sauce, two boiled eggs with Marmite soldiers, Birchermüesli in Switzerland, kippers, a southern Indian thali eaten from a banana leaf in the Nandi Hills, a cappuccino and cornetto leaning up against the bar in Rome, we’ll even tolerate cereal if we really must. But most of the time, most mornings, we’re happy with the rule: Toast with butter and either marmalade or jam.
Actually my Dad prefers marmalade to jam, preferably orange, spread thickly on hot buttered toast. Luckily for him, my mum boils up at least 52 pots of Seville orange marmalade every January, meaning Martin Roddy can, and does – with only modest assistance from my Mum – polish off a jar a week. When we all get together at my parents house, the Roddy progeny with husband, wife and Vincenzo, when we all pounce on the pot of marmalade at breakfast, my Dad’s forehead twitches involuntarily as he watches that weeks pot disappear before his eyes.
I, on the other hand, am a jam and marmalade egalitarian, there’s no real favouritism on my part when it come to conserves, preserves and jellies. If they’re well made with good ingredients, if there is good bread and nice butter, I’m content: orange, lemon, lime, strawberry – especially the tiny wild ones, raspberry, apricot, blackcurrant, blackberry, crabapple, gooseberry, fig, quince, apple, pear, peach, plum and cherry, I like them all.
Making my own jam and marmalade though: that’s a fairly recent habit. Even though I’d watched my Mum for years, even though I’d been the one to put the blob of marmalade or strawberry jam on the cold saucer to see if it had set, the one press to the waxy circle onto the jam before twisting on the lid, I was anxious about doing it all alone. My first proper attempt at orange marmalade didn’t do much for my confidence. I was living in east London at the time and carried 10 lb of Seville oranges home from west London on the bus during rush hour. I boiled the bloody stuff, my glorious deep, golden orange marmalade liquid, for hours and hours, it just wouldn’t set. We ate it like syrup, stoically pouring it over anything vaguely appropriate.
Then I moved to Italy! Oh dear, are you getting bored with me saying that yet? I imagine you very well might be, ‘Then I moved to Italy. When I moved to Italy‘ – to be honest, I bore myself sometimes! Anyway, during those first months in Rome, when I wasn’t working, living right next to a terrific market with the nicest produce I could hope for, inspired by everything and everyone around me, I began putting fruit in jars.
My learning curve has been steep, I’ve made lot’s of syrup and there are seven pots of 2008 marmalade on top of the cabinet that I’d rather ignore. But I’m getting better. This year particularly. Bolstered by my lemon curd, strawberry jam, lemon jelly and the fact we haven’t bought a single pot of jam since January, I’m really enjoying putting food in jars and hoping to make enough jam to see us through the winter. Just back from 10 days in London and still thinking about the peaches from my parents garden, my next project had to be peach jam. My chance to preserve some quintessential summer fruit for dark days in December.
I bought these peaches from the market at Sabaudia which is about 40 minutes south of Rome. As you can see, they’re handsome fruits, their downy skin flushed with pink, their flesh golden-yellow, firm, but tender and sweet. They’re more robust than the tiny white fleshed peaches I picked from my parents garden, meaty really. Bolder in flavour too, heady and exotic to my English taste buds, with a hint of vanilla and almond.
I was almost defeated at the first hurdle. I’ve never made peach jam before, so I consulted all my books and typed various combination of words into google. I found surprisingly few recipes, and those I did mostly appeared rather complicated, requiring pectin and thermometers, orange zest, lemon pips and eagle-eyed timings, there were almonds, Amaretto and other fussy additions. I wasn’t in the mood. I began thinking about other ways to use 2 kilo’s of peaches: straight, salad, tart, compote, facemask. Then, peach in hand, I remembered the tome of Italian cooking; Il cucchiaio d‘argento (The silver spoon) a well-loved book, but a somewhat neglected one since it’s been moonlighting as a paper weight on the shelf near the window. Sure enough, at the bottom of page 1118, there’s a recipe for Marmellata di pesche, peach jam. It’s fantastically straightforward – the recipes in classic Italian cookbooks usually are – peeled, sliced peaches and sugar cooked over a gentle flame for a couple of hours.
My joy at finding something so simple was almost immediately dampened by doubt, my enthusiasm fizzing out like a dodgy sparkler on Bonfire Night. The cooking time was two or three times longer than any other recipe I’d found! Having been exasperated by their presence before, I now found myself wondering anxiously about the lack of pectin, thermometers or cryptic testing times. It was just too simple I thought! There had to be something more complicated!
In such situations, I generally find a cup of tea is helpful. As I sat at the kitchen table, mug in hand, I realised it could well be that simple, that the nicest things often are! My jam sparkler reignited, I poured myself another cup of tea before rolling up my sleeves and following the recipe.
I think this might be the best jam I’ve ever made. You don’t need to fret about setting times or thermometers beacause the jam is cooked for so long, so gently, that it reduces into a wonderfully thick, dense consistency in the pan. It’s darker, stickier, more intense than todays bright, barely cooked jams, and all the nicer for it. That said, if I’d been more confident and a little more experienced, I probably could have pulled it of the flame twenty minutes earlier, so it was a little less dense. I will next time, because there will be a next time.
For a first attempt It’s pretty damn delicious though, and Vincenzo – whose coterie of Sicilian aunties were formidable jam makers – thinks its admirable jam. Even though it’s not orange marmalade, my wonderful Dad would thoroughly approve too. I’m making another batch tomorrow.
Excellent on slice of freshly cut, generously buttered white bread.
This is the recipe (pretty much verbatim) from Il cucchiaio d‘argento. The only adjustments I made were to peel the peaches and make a smaller quality. If you are an experienced jam maker I’m sure you’ll make more adjustments. If, on the other hand. you’re a novice I suggest trying this recipe as written. Don’t panic about the lack of great detail, procure some beautiful peaches, keep the flame low, stir intermittently and trust in all the Italian mothers and grandmothers who evolved – Il cucchiaio d‘argento is a rigorously tested compendium of Italian home cooking – this very simple technique.
Peach jam (Marmellata di pesche)
Smaller quantity : yield 3 – 4 jars.
- 1.2kg/ 2 lb 10 oz ripe peaches
- 500g / 1 lb 2 oz sugar
Larger quantity : yield 5 – 7 jars I imagine
- 2kg / 4 1/2 Ib Ripe peaches
- 8oog / 1 3/4 Ib sugar
Peel the peaches (as you would tomatoes) by putting them in a large bowl and covering them with boiling water. After a minute, using a slotted spoon. scoop the peaches out of the boiling water and lower them into another bowl of cold water. After 30 seconds scoop the peaches out of the cold water and working quickly with your hands or a sharp knife, skin the peaches.
Cut the skinned peaches in half, pull away the stone and then slice each half thinly and place in a large, heavy based saucepan. If the peaches are very ripe and juicy, it is not necessary to add extra water, otherwise add 5 tablespoons. Cook the peaches over a low flame until they start to become mushy, the add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Bring the jam to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook the jam over a low flame, stirring occasionally for about 2 1/2 hours. The jam will reduce significantly, darken and caramelize, it should be dense, coating the back of your wooden spoon.
Ladle the jam into warm, clean (sterilized) jars and then seal tightly while they are still hot, label once they are cool and store in a cool dry place.
Eat for breakfast on hot buttered toast or at about 4 o clock spread thickly on a slice of freshly cut, generously buttered, white bread.
This Sunday, the 15th, is Ferragosto, a national holiday in Italy. Originally Ferragosto or Feriae Augusti (Festivals Holidays of the Emperor Augustus) was a celebration to honor the gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening. Ferragosto was related to the celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labour in the fields. I like this. We will be celebrating the middle of summer and our moderate labour in the city by lying on the beach, eating local mozzarella di bufala and then – if all goes to plan, which things often don’t – making jam and bottling tomatoes at Vincenzo’s parents house by the sea. I hope you are having a good summer wherever you are.