The gifts I hand out at this time of year tend to be home-made ones: jars of very boozy mincemeat to make mince pies with, chocolate truffles, tin boxes of cookies, and Christmas pudding or stollen. This year, I’m giving away home-made preserves.
In an ideal world, we would work with whatever fruits are grown locally and available fresh but, in Hong Kong, we often have to rely on what’s being sold at a reasonable price in the frozen-fruit section. Keep your eyes peeled for good deals on unusual fruits – this year, I was pleased to find frozen lingonberries.
Cooked lingonberry preserves
Researching lingonberries after finding bags of them in the frozen-food section at Great, in Pacific Place, Admiralty, I learned that the fruit is nutritious and high in pectin. I also learned that in Scandinavian countries, the simple way to make lingonberry preserves is to just mix the fruit with sugar, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves – there’s no need to cook the mixture before putting it into jars. I used some of the lingonberries that way, but also made a batch with the usual technique of cooking the fruit and sugar together. The simpler technique better retained the fresh flavour of the fruit – but it needs to be refrigerated, which isn’t good if you’re giving it as a gift. If you want to make it this way, use a fruit to sugar ratio of 2:1.
For cooked lingonberry preserves, simmer the mixture briefly. If you overcook it, the jam will get too thick, and the fruit will end up tasting more like cranberries, to which lingonberries are related. This jam doesn’t use as much sugar as most of my preserves recipes (I usually use 4:3) so the tart flavour of the fruit is preserved. It also makes it a delicious preserve for serving with savoury dishes, as is done in Scandinavian cuisines.
1.5kg frozen lingonberries
750 grams granulated sugar, divided
Put the lingonberries in a large bowl and mix in half the sugar. Leave for several hours (or overnight), stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.
Just before cooking the jam, wash eight to 10 250ml canning jars and their lids. Fill the jars with boiling water, leave for five minutes, then pour out the water and leave the jars inverted in a draining rack. Put the lids in a bowl, cover them with boiling water and leave until it’s time to fill the jars.
Put the fruit mixture into a large, wide pan. Add the remaining sugar and 250ml of water, then bring to the boil over a high flame, stirring often. Simmer until most of the lingonberries burst. Ladle the mixture into the sterilised canning jars, leaving 1cm of headspace. Wipe the lip of each jar with a damp paper towel then cap it with the lid and screw it on tightly.
To make the preserves shelf-stable (so there’s no need for refrigeration), boil them in a water bath. Bring a wide, deep pot of water to the boil and lay a dish towel on the bottom so the base is completely covered. Put the jars upright in one layer in the pot of water, making sure they are submerged. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, adding more water, if needed. Remove the jars from the water and leave to cool.
Wild blueberry preserves
Wild blueberries are smaller than the cultivated variety, and seem to have a higher amount of pectin. I’ve found them in the frozen section of Great, and occasionally at Oliver’s, in Prince’s Building, Central.
1.8kg frozen wild blueberries
1.35kg granulated sugar, divided
About 45ml fresh lemon juice
Put the blueberries in a large bowl with half the sugar. Leave for several hours (or overnight), stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.
Just before cooking the jam, wash eight to 10 250ml canning jars and their lids, then sterilise them as in the first recipe.
Place a plate in the fridge to chill (you’ll need it to check the consistency of the jam). Put the fruit mixture into a large, wide pan. Add the remaining sugar and bring to the boil over a high flame, stirring often. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the jam reaches its setting point: check by turning off the flame then putting some of the jam on the chilled plate. Leave for a few minutes, then run your finger through the jam on the plate: if your finger leaves a track mark, the jam is ready. If it’s too thin, turn the flame back on and continue to cook the mixture, checking the consistency occasionally. When it’s ready, stir in the lemon juice.
Ladle the mixture into the sterilised canning jars, leaving 1cm of headspace. Wipe the lip of each jar with a damp paper towel, then cap the jar tightly with the lid. Boil the jars in a water bath as in the first recipe.
Caramelised apple confit
I call this “confit” because the apples are cooked at a low temperature for much of the process. This preserve tastes best when warmed, mixed with some brandy or cognac, then served over vanilla ice cream.
1.8kg Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8mm dice (weigh the fruit after peeling and coring it)
1.2kg granulated sugar, divided
2 vanilla pods
2 cinnamon sticks, each about 8cm long
80ml fresh lemon juice
Put the diced apples in a large bowl with half the sugar. Stir frequently and leave until the sugar is dissolved.
Wash and sterilise six or seven 250ml canning jars.
Put the fruit mixture into a large, wide pan with the remaining sugar. Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise, scrape out the tiny seeds, then put the seeds and scraped-out pod into the pan, along with the cinnamon sticks. Add 300ml of water then bring to the boil, lower the heat and cook at a very low simmer for about 90 minutes, or until the apples are tender. Increase the heat and cook, stirring often, until the sugar is caramelised and the mixture is thick. Stir in 350ml of water then bring to the boil, turn off the heat and leave for 30 minutes. Bring to the boil again, turn off the heat and leave for a further 30 minutes. By this time, most of the apples should be translucent. Bring to the boil a final time then stir in the lemon juice.
Ladle the mixture into the sterilised canning jars, leaving 1cm of headspace. Wipe the lip of each jar with a damp paper towel then cap tightly with the lids. Boil the jars in a water bath as in the first recipe.
For more recipes, go to scmp.com/topics/recipes