All Good Banana Jam

Buoyed by my success at sandwich making (did I tell you, my Black Forest Sandwich won the People’s Choice Award at the Urban Harvest sandwich contest?), I am now turning my hand to jam. While my sandwich making prowess has been honed over decades, my jam making skills are rudimentary to say the least. However, they welcome allcomers at the Welly Jamoff on March 25 and I figure you’ve got to be in it to win it – or something like that.

Actually, I’m just happy to be in it, especially because I reckon all the other ‘jampetitors’ will be crafting their preserves from carefully cultivated fruit and mine came from the supermarket. That said, I have been pretty selective. I haven’t just chosen any bananas for my entry, but bananas with a social conscience. All Good Bananas are all about “changing the world, one banana at a time” – their Fairtrade fruit comes from Ecuador and it might be my bleeding heart imagination but I’m sure they taste better. I’d rather pay a little bit more for bananas for my family if it means the family that grew them gets some kind of payback along the way.

Whether that means my jam will make the cut on Sunday remains to be seen – but in the meantime, here’s the recipe. It’s really good spread on homemade bagels, dolloped on Greek yoghurt, used to sandwich a sponge or even stirred into porridge.

Easy Banana Jam Recipe

All Good Banana Jam
I’ve had this recipe since 2005, when I asked a web forum if anyone could tell me how to make banana jam without using artificial colours and flavourings. A helpful woman called Kerry sent me a version of this recipe, saying it was the one she used when she lived in Lagos, where the bananas have red skins. I’ve upped the cinnamon a bit and added walnuts, but you could leave them out.

6 ripe but not mushy Fairtrade bananas (choose ones with a gentle amount of freckling on the skin)
3 cups Fairtrade white sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons) – from our neighbours’ tree
1 1/2 tsp Fairtrade cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup walnuts (fresh local ones, if you can manage it)

Mash the bananas with a fork, then arrange layers of mashed banana and sugar in a heavy-based pot. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and salt, then pour over the lemon juice. Cover and let sit for an hour, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture looks syrupy.
Heat gently and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until thick, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Stir in the walnuts, then pour into sterilised jars and seal. Makes 4-5 jars. Store in the fridge once opened.

And if you’re wondering what to do with those banana skins (apart from putting them on the pavement for comedy potential) this cake puts them to use. I can’t quite stomach the thought of it myself, but let me know if you’ve tried it.

Anyway, are you a jamtastic type? What’s your favourite to make or eat?

Lucy’s Christmas Chutney

There are many pre-Christmas things I have failed to do this year. If you’re going to the letterbox every day in the hope that I’ve remembered to send you a Christmas card, let me save you the trip. It’s December 20 and my Christmas cards are sitting on my desk, half-written. At least, I think they’re here somewhere. A box unpacked itself on the desk over the weekend and it’s a miracle I can find the keyboard.
The only thing that’s stopping me feeling like a complete failure is that I had the presence of mind to a) make the Christmas cake and b) make my famous Christmas chutney before we moved house. Yes, the 2.25g cake and a polybin full of jars added to the load, but it was worth it. I’ve been dispensing jars hither and yon all week and it’s done wonders for my festive spirit. I’m just sorry I can’t post them.

Lucy’s Christmas Chutney
I’ve been making this since 1997, when the internet was just a baby and I was just a slip of a girl (ish). It’s great with ham, cold turkey, cheese and bread, especially if all of these things are consumed while reclining on a deckchair/sofa and reading something you got for Christmas. This year I added walnuts (about a cupful) for a bit of crunch, but it’s great just as is.

450g tart green apples (about 3), peeled, cored and cut into 1cm chunks.
225g onions (1 large), peeled and chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup dates, roughly chopped
1 cup seedless raisins
1 cup prunes, roughly chopped
2/3 cup crystallised ginger, roughly chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder
2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups white vinegar
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Reduce the heat and simmer very gently uncovered for about 45 minutes until the mixture is thick and the fruit is soft. You should be able to squish the apple with the back of a wooden spoon and the raisins will look swollen and plump. Don’t wander off and forget about the mixture, it will need regular stirring to prevent it from sticking. If it becomes too thick, add more vinegar.
Spoon the chutney into sterilised jars and seal with cellophane or tight-fitting lids. Makes about four 350ml jars.

Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter

I spent ages trying to think of a fancy title for this post, then I realised it didn’t need one. I mean, ‘salted chocolate peanut butter’ drew you in fast enough, didn’t it?

Salted chocolate peanut butter
This started out as ordinary peanut butter. We’d run out, I had a bag of peanuts, I threw them in the oven to roast them, then into the processor. Then I was thinking about a friend of mine with whom I share an abiding love for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and I threw in a handful of 50 per cent cocoa chocolate that was in the pantry. And a pinch of salt for luck. A few moments later I realised it was going to take a lot of willpower (or another bag of peanuts) if she was going to get any of it in her Christmas stocking. Here’s how you do it.

200g raw peanuts
100g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
flaky sea salt, to taste (about 1/2 – 1tsp)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Tip the peanuts into a roasting dish, then put it in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Shake the dish occasionally and keep an eye on the peanuts – you want them golden brown and nutty smelling, not incinerated. Remove from the oven and let cool for five minutes, then tip them into the processor. Blitz until they form a grainy paste. They will make a hell of a racket and you’ll think nothing is going to happen, but it will. Have faith. When it’s looking more like a paste, tip in the chocolate and 1/2 tsp salt and whizz again. Taste and add more salt/whizz until it suits your palate. Scrape into a pretty (and clean) jar. Tie a ribbon around the top and attach a small spoon. The recipient will know exactly what it’s for.

How are your Christmas preps going? Stay tuned for more last-minute ideas in the next week or so.

Christmas countdown: Pickled Beetroot

One of my most treasured possessions is my sister’s copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas. She gave it to me three years ago, complete with notes on some of Delia’s most sensible suggestions (the instruction to have a pre-lunch glass of champagne on Christmas Day is heavily underlined).
I was reading it the other day for relaxation purposes when I found a recipe I hadn’t seen before for pickled beetroot and shallots. It was enough of an “a-ha” moment to propel me into the kitchen immediately – and now I have the perfect gift for a friend for whom Christmas is inextricably entwined with the prospect of ham and beetroot.

You can find the recipe here, along with lots of other sage advice about festive food. Just don’t forget how much you (and I) deserve that glass of bubbles.

Getting this made has made me feel incredibly organised, though not as organised as the Let’s Make Christmas crowd. How are you getting on with your Christmas plans?