I have just spent a few days at my parents house near London. That’s my mum, well part of her, sitting at her kitchen table on Tuesday with oranges and pomegranates which I’ll come to later. Yes, more oranges, it must feel like citrus dèjà vu every time you come here.
It was a significant trip because last Sunday it was exactly five years since I took flight, in both senses of the word, from England to Italy. My departure on 6th March 2005 was a snap, a ping, a spontaneous decision that caused chaos at the time, but one that after much twisting, turning and the necessary amends, has led me to a very different, much happier and unexpected life here in Rome.
I’m not going to dwell on this, but it seemed important to mark the date with you all. Had it not been for that particular Sunday, I wouldn’t be in living in Rome teaching, cooking and writing in the way I do now, I wouldn’t have started this blog, I wouldn’t have become part of all this and met all of you. Good and happy things all of them.
We are a family of Jelly dessert lovers, especially my Dad. I am not talking about the highly artificial, rubbery, lurid stuff that’s called jell-O or jelli and comes in gels, powders or ready- set in small tubs, boasting ‘only four ingredients; gelatin, water, artificial flavour and artificial colour’ – actually I do have a sentimental weakness for packet jelly so I shouldn’t sniff, especailly Rountree’s mandarin flavour with tinned mandarin segments that sit suspended in the rubbery gel like goldfish with rigamortis. I am talking about ephemeral, wibbly wobbly fresh fruit juice or alcohol jellies, ones scented with spices and softly set with gelatin or agar agar flakes, jellies which at least a nod to their honourable and intriguing history that dates back to medieval times.
My mum made such a jelly on Saturday night, a particularly wonderful and delicious one of oranges, pomegranates and cardamom.
A softly set, cloudy pink dessert, light, sweet and nicely sharp with the warm, fragrant, spicy undertones of the cardamom. Elegant but inherently amusing because jelly always is. Wobble wobble.
On Sunday I sat at the kitchen table copying the jelly recipe into my notebook, it is one of Nigel Slater’s that my Mum snipped from the Guardian back in December last year – an alternative christmas pudding, he also suggests prunes with chocolate and creme fraiche or a chocolate and chestnut terrine which were also duly noted down. Then Mum and I sat talking about jelly, agreeing it is abused, misunderstood, overlooked and discussing the endless possibilities. Suddenly Mum leapt up excitedly and pulled a book off the shelf, a slim, hardback volume – with a lovely painting of summer pudding and a custard tart on the cover – called English puddings sweet and savory by Mary Norwalk. She turned to chapter two; Jellies, blancmanges and Flummeries.
A flummery indeed, more about that another day. First the jellies, after a fascinating introduction and insight into the history of jelly, there are recipes for lemon jelly, cider jelly, port wine jelly, Victorian apple jelly, milk jelly, little orange jellies served in orange skin baskets which were a favourite of Charles II apparently…… I scribbled so frantically my mum gave me the book to bring back to Rome. For a jelly lover like myself it was bewitching, the possibilities, in possession of gelatin and maybe some sugar you can set just about anything, into a quivering, delicate dessert.
It all very fanciful, jelly daydreaming.
Anyway back to the orange, pomegranate and cardamom jelly, which I made again on Tuesday the day before I left.
Basically you make some fruit juice (it could be alcohol or any flavoured solution for that matter)and set it with gelatin or agar agar. In this case it is orange and pomegranate juice, oh and a lemon too, to which you add some finely chopped zest. You don’t have to worry about stray pomegranate seeds or orange pulp, it can be a messy lumpy mass, you will strain it later. My mum has this cunning little tool called a lemon reamer which is well, cunning and I wish I had thought of it.
Then you crush 6 pretty papery grey- green cardomens pods with the back of a heavy knife so they split revealing the neat rows of jet black seeds, and then you scoop up pods and seeds and add them along with a little sugar to the pink juice. Now you warm the juice until it is just, but not quite boiling, you cover it and leave it to sit and the sultry cardomen infuse the fruit juice for about 15 minutes
While the juice is sitting quietly you soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water. You stain the juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardamom pods) and you slip the now floppy, gooey gelatin leaves into the just warm juice
You return the reserved cardamom pods into the juice – they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Finally you divide the juice between 6 or 8 little glasses and refrigerate them for a good 4 or 5 hours or overnight.
On Saturday night my Mum took Nigel’s advice and broke open the remaining pomegranate, separated the fruit and served each tumbler of jelly with a crown of deep red jewel like pomegranate seeds piled on top which was delicious and very beautiful.
Back in Rome and in my kitchen which seems very small, I have all the ingredients and my new lemon reamer. I will make this for supper on Saturday for after main course (beef, I think) and before the chocolate.
Last thing, if you are vegetarian (Gelatin is a protein produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the bones and connective tissues of animals) and using agar agar or vege -gel follow the instructions and quantities on the packet, then please let me know, I am really really interested in the results.
Orange, pomegranate and cardamom jelly
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Guardian
serves 6 or 8
- 6 or 7 large, juice oranges (to give about 750ml juice)
- 50g caster sugar
- 2 pomegranates plus another for serving
- 1 unwaxed lemon
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 5 sheets of gelatine or agar agar powder or
Cut few strips of oranges and lemon zest with a sharp knife and set aside then squeeze the oranges (you should have about 750ml of orange juice) and then the two pomegranates and the lemon.
Put the juice and the orange and lemon zest into a stainless steel pan along with the 6 cardamom pods you have split open by pressing them with the back of a heavy knife – add both pods and seeds – and the sugar.
Warm the pan gently over a low flame until the juice is bubbling and nearly but not quite boiling. Cover the pan, turn of the flame and leave it to sit for 15 minutes.
Once the pan has been sitting for about 10 minutes slide the gelatine sheets into a bowl of cold water to soften for 5 minutes.
Stain the now just warm juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardamom pods)
While the juice is sitting quietly you soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water. You stain the juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardomen pods) and you slip the now floppy, transparent gelatin into the just warm juice and stir them carefully and thoroughly into warm juice, the gelatine sheets will melt in seconds.
Add the reserved cardamom pods into the juice – they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Finally you divide the juice between 6 or 8 little glasses and refrigerate them for a good 4 or 5 hours or overnight.
IF you like you can break open the remaining pomegranate, remove the seeds and pile on top of the jellies.