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English jammy things

"Jam, in its various incarnations ... is a non-necessary comestible. It wasn’t always thus. Jam ... was a way to preserve food, to protect against any periods of scarcity that might hit." Violet Hudson - Spectator Life

I have been a bit down about my weight of late. I had hoped to be able to maintain my weight at the goal I had set myself by just fasting once a week, but no, it seems I still have to fast twice a week. All a bit dispiriting, particularly when sometimes you fast and you actually put on weight! Now I am no gym junky but I do try to go for at least three longish walks per week plus some energetic weeding on the other days, so for an 'elderly' lady like myself I reckon I do alright with respect to exercise.

Anyway because I was getting nowhere I decided I would give up breakfast. It's my least favourite meal of the day after all. Well not the coffee. Never the coffee. Currently along with my coffee I get a crumpet with jam, or a croissant with jam or toast and jam. But always jam. Home-made of course.

Now I love making jam too. It's so satisfying to make use of nature's bounty, or fruit that is about to go off in the fridge. But I do recognise that jam is not healthy. It's loaded with sugar. Back in my childhood when we came home from school we were often given some bread and jam - lovely, (but white), bread fresh from the local baker, spread with oodles of butter and jam. Food of the poor I suppose. They say that's one of the evils of remote Aboriginal communities too - bread and jam. Well the poor anywhere. It's filling and it is energy giving. Just rots your teeth, makes you obese and gives you diabetes. But we didn't know that when we were young.

I have quite a lot of jars of jam in my pantry and I have no intention of stopping making jam - it's a Christmas time ritual when all my little wild plums in the garden come to fruition. I can give it away - well that's a bit more difficult at the moment, but my son does like it and I can drop some off in his letterbox I guess. Oh no, he lives more than 5km away. So this started me thinking about what else I could do with the jam.

First I thought of jam tarts because somehow recently, I can't remember why now, I saw or heard something about jam tarts. Which led me to think of jam roly-poly pudding as well. Another unhealthy childhood thing.

I'm not a real fan of jam tarts which is a bit odd because I love jam and I love pastry, so you would think it's a winning combination. I'm guessing they are pretty ancient things. Though I do wonder when they started making jam. Way, way back it seems, although they probably used honey rather than sugar at first. Must have a look at sugar some time.

"Nostradamus loved the stuff so much he wrote an entire treatise on it, including a love-potion version that, if passed from mouth to mouth, would strike a woman with ‘a burning of her heart to perform the love-act.’ (Presumably this wouldn’t be the same woman who had slaved for hours over a scalding hot stove, praying desperately for seven different batches of it to set.)" Violet Hudson - Spectator Life

They're pretty simple things to make, jam tarts that is - just make some pastry, put it in tart tins, stick in some jam and cook. Just be careful not to eat them straight out of the oven. The jam will be very, very hot. Here is a selection of recipes, from left to right, top to bottom: from The Spruce Eats, Donna Hay's Jam drops, Jamie Oliver's Rainbow jam tarts, The Women's Weekly and Delia - who calls her's Viennese tartlets, I think, mostly because the pastry is a bit different. Varying amounts of jam I see as well.

They do seem to be a purely English thing. The continentals tend to make a larger tart with a lattice of pastry on the top. I wonder why that is? I mean you would think that something so simple would be translated into something similar in other countries. I mean they all make jam. But they seem to prefer to go for real fruit or custard or cream fillings when they look at little tarts. It's very much a kiddy kind of thing though isn't it? However, not my thing although Jamie Oliver almost makes me want to have a go, when he says:

"It's funny how simple pastry with a blob of jam can turn into something so exciting, with chewy bits, bubbling bits, crunchy bits and jammy jelly bits."

Then there are jammy dodgers, which are jam tarts with a lid and a bit of a hole in the middle - Looking at my jam tarts above I'm thinking that Donna Hay's Jam drops are probably a bit like them. I think they are more of a commercial biscuit than a tart though. Don't think people actually make these at home.

Still on childhood things, you can't go past jam roly-poly - a favourite of the school dinner puddings. The milky puddings at school were truly horrible, but the suet puddings, especially the jam roly-poly were favourites. Stodgy, hot and sweet.

"Jam roly-poly was a favourite of mine for lots of reasons: its comforting blend of sweet and stodge, its satisfyingly nursery rhythmical name, plus its delightfully gory pseudonym – Dead Man's Arm!" Lizzie Enfield - The Guardian

We never called it 'dead man's arm', or 'shirt-sleeve pudding' either, come to that. Apparently the first derives from the second which derives from the fact that the pudding used to be rolled up in a shirt sleeve.

True jam roly-poly is a suet and flour based dough - spread with jam, rolled up and steamed. These days virtually all the recipes you will find are baked rather than steamed, and now, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure whether the ones we had at school were baked or steamed. The baked ones would have had a crispy outside, the steamed ones were pure stodge. But it was the jam and the custard that made it so good. Apparently it became so unpopular that Bird's Custard, who was therefore losing sales, began a campaign to reinstate it. And it seems to have been taken up by some celebrity chefs. I haven't checked them all out but included below are Nigel Slater's Roly-poly pudding (bottom right), The Hairy Biker's version via The Nosey Chef (middle top row) and Yotam Ottolenghi's Hazelnut roly-poly with lemon custard - which is obviously a modern cheffy take on the whole thing. I'm not sure where the others come from now but there are lots of recipes out there - almost all of them for the baked version. I think all of these are. The first one is the closest I could find to what I remember our school version looking like. I don't think my mother ever made it. Indeed did anybody's mother? All the articles I found about it talked fondly of school versions, never mum's. Which is interesting.

None of which solves my problem of what to do with my jam. I mean I'm not going to make jam tarts or roly-poly pudding, even Yotam Ottolenghi's or Nigel Slater's fancy versions. And I'm certainly not going to attempt a Victoria sponge - the other traditional use for jam (trifle too I suppose). Besides they both deserve posts of their own.

So I looked some more and, so far, have three potential options. I could get drunk with a Jam daiquiri which a bartender friend of Jamie's has devised. But the alcohol base is rum, and I'm not a huge fan of rum, trendy though it might be.

I think if it was summer I would go for Granny's jam ice-cream which I found in Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall's Love Your Leftovers book, although it's from Gill Meller not the man himself. And no it's not just jam swirled through vanilla ice cream. You make the ice cream with cream and condensed milk. They say "it's a good way of using up double cream that's about to turn because the

condensed milk is sweet enough to mask any slightly sour flavours." He also suggests, as an alternative, adding some thinned down peanut butter to the mix. Yes I think I'll try that come summer.

For now though I think the best option is something called Jammy puddings which is from a website called My Foodbook. It's sort of an upside down pudding - almost a cross between a jam tart and a roly-poly pudding, so very appropriate. Very simple and very tempting looking. A bit like the crumpets at the top of the page.

Not that any of these things are going to help me with my original incentive to lose weight. The trouble is jam is just full of sugar - both natural from the fruit and unnatural from the sugar - well still natural but only sort of. I don't think there's really anything healthy you can do with jam.

Maybe a bit on a ham glaze or in a sauce for something like duck or pork sometime. Mmm, not really.


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