Wednesday, June 14, 2006


The most ridiculous debate ever. Purely academic and nothing to do with the case in question. I refuse to pontificate on such pointlessness.

It's "skon" just for the record.

It all started with an oozily crushable bunch of white grapes that I had in the fridge. Half of them had been devoured, the rest were on the shelf, a little too squidgy to eat as they were, but still edible. If you don't catch fruit at its zenith then at least there's a few day window in which to do something about it before it plummets nadir-bound. And why break with age old traditions? If you can't eat them, preserve them.

Grape jam doesn't seem to exist in Britain, but Americans are no strangers to the concept of grape jelly, yet that sweetly dark goop was not what I had in mind. Recipes for what I did visualise (something palely beautiful, if you must know) sounded laborious - "skin all the grapes...boil the mashed flesh...then chop up the skins and add them once the grapes have cooked down". No thank you. But does one really need to find a recipe? No, one just needs to think about the principles of conserving fruit and work with them.

As a general rule, jams tend to consist of equal weight of fruit and sugar and rely on the pectin in the fruit itself or an added source of pectin to make it set to a dense consistency. In terms of sugar, fruit spreads like (the highly recommended) St. Dalfour which do not add any cane sugar use grape juice to sweeten the product instead, so it was not a far stretch to think that making a jam from grapes would be sweet enough and probably not need such a high amount of added sucrose. In terms of pectin, the less ripe the fruit, the higher the pectin content (as the fruit ripens, the pectin is converted into sugar) so my overripe grapes probably needed some help to transform into a glossy, viscous mass. I wasn't sure how well a 'setter' grapes would be anyway but remembered my mum always adding lemon juice to her jams if she knew they needed assistance in such matters. However, I didn't have any to hand - the only thing I could muster was a standby bottle of lime juice. I believe apple juice also works too but I didn't have any there and then. Lime is fine and it would seem that you don't need to add so much that it ends up flavouring the result.

Being the maverick that I am (ahem), not content with bringing just a grape jam into this world, I felt it necessary to embellish it with a complimentary ingredient. With the flavour of being somewhat delicate, it had to a be similarly exquisite substance, and as the pairing with elderflower is old old old, what more fine a flavouring than rosewater?

With the jam made, my busy hands and busier brain were still not sated. This jam on a plain old bloomer? I think not. No, something had to be created in its honour. Something that would not carry it, but elevate it to the top of the cake stand.

There is no more lovelier vessel for a daub of jam than a scone - but not just any scone, a cake-like biscuit born entirely for the purpose of partnering that jam alone. Your run of the mill raisin scone will hold strawberry Bonne Maman just dandy, yet spread with mine: grape overkill. What would work, I thought, would be an apple scone. And it did.

The quantities for the grape jam here are doubled, since my paltry 250g of fruit yielded barely enough to half-fill a slim little jar, but just work out the ratios based on what you have (if it is just 250g of grapes it still makes enough for a whole batch of scones). I'd feel sad if you specifically went out to buy spankingly new grapes just to make jam with. There's a reason why this process became a method of preserving and it's got nothing to do with newly picked/bought fruit (unless it was an excess, of course).

The scone recipe is oh-riginal too. Bake them now, thank me later.

Grape and Rosewater jam
(yields one 350g jar)

  • 500g ripe/overripe white grapes
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar (depending on ripeness - the riper the fruit, the less sugar you need)
  • 3 tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tbsp apple juice
Pulse-blitz the grapes in a blender (hand or jug - either works) until crushed and pulpy but not pureed. Place in a heavy saucepan on a low heat, stew gently for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Still at a low heat, add the sugar, rosewater and apple juice, stir continuously, scraping the sides of the pan down, until all the sugar is completely dissolved. Once this happens, turn up the heat and boil the mixture for 15-20 minutes, stirring continuously. The jam should reduce and may still look liquid. Thermometers are really not necessary for this - it's less faffy to let drop a little of the stuff onto a small plate that's been in the fridge, allow the sticky coin-shaped substance to cool down and then test how set it is by pleasurably sliding a finger through it. You may have read things about this test making the jam 'crinkle' on its surface but really and truly, it just 'feels' and looks the consistency of, well, 'jam'. Anyone who's eaten the stuff knows what that's like, and well, if you haven't, aside from asking yourself what you've been doing all your life, you probably should eat some before you attempt to make it yourself. Also taste it to check whether the flavour of roses actually permeates through and if not, add a few drops more to the mixture and continue heating for a couple more minutes and test the jam again. Pour the finished result into a sterilised jar (easily done by washing a glass jar and its lid in soapy water, rinsing thoroughly and then placing in the oven at 180°C for a few minutes). If you have those waxed paper discs too then I assume you know what to do with them anyway so I won't bother detailing it, as it's not really necessary. For those that don't bother, allow the whole thing to cool with the lid atop the jar, but not screwed on and then close once completely cold.

Apple Scones

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 50g strong plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 40g cold unsalted butter
  • 50g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2-1 Cox's apple, chopped into 1/2 cm pieces (depending on how appley you feel)
  • 50ml milk (or thereabouts)
  • extra beaten egg (optional)

Sift together the flours and salt into a bowl, and add cubes of the fridge-cold butter to the mixture, crumbling it all together until breadcrumb-like. Add the sugar, and then the beaten egg, stirring gently but comprehensively to combine. Fold in the apple and then, dribble in a little milk at a time, thoroughly turning the mixture with a spoon after each addition, until the whole thing comes together as a sticky dough - you might not need to use all the milk, so it's best to add it gradually instead of ending up with a soggy stateful mess (which is easily remedied with a little flour - but try not to get locked into the whole "needs more flour...oops, there's too much flour now, it needs more milk" loop because it will affect the resulting scones).

Place the bowl in the fridge for half an hour and go do something nice. Or wash up, if you feel you really have to. Once the dough has rested, preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the mix on a flour-dusted work surface and roll/pat out until about 1 inch thick. It may not look like you can do it, but you can squeeze roughly eight 5cm shapes out from this quantity. Inspired by Tesco's finest scones I decided to cut mine square, but it's all about self-administered pleasure here so do as you wish. Although 5cm doesn't look like much, once baked, they puff and swell to a pleasingly perfect size. If you want big scones, make them that way though - you glutton, you. If you are using egg wash, then now's the time to do it. If you are somewhat of a perfectionist, make sure you only brush the top surface with the egg. Place on a baking sheet, making sure each has room to grow, and bake for 15-20 minutes. They should rise proudly and although they appear lumpy and dense, are very much the opposite.

With the stupid phonetics out of the way, what is a more pertinent question is whether you layer yours with jam then a good mound of Devon clotted or whether you ardently champion cream then a fat splodge of jam. A poll on nicecupofteaandasitdown suggests that jam should be applied first, with thickly set cream spread on top. Not one to go against the grain, I agree and that's how I had mine. Best served in the park. Or in the Ritz's Palm Court where they hold their Afternoon Tea. They might not be too happy with you bringing your own food in, though.