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In Summer 2018, we went to London, and I fell in love with several books which just would not fit into my luggage. One of these was Lillie O’Brien’s Five Seasons of Jam (Kyle, 2018). I was so enthralled by the flavour profiles in that cookbook, I pre-ordered it from my local bookseller for its Canadian release. Since then, I’ve made several of O’Brien’s recipes and I’ve riffed on her flavour profiles. I suggest you order the book and do the same.
As things do in my kitchen, my first experience with the cookbook’s Medjool Date & Chestnut Jam hit a few snags. Several of my chestnuts, after boiling, looked a little worse for the wear. [Since that first attempt, I’ve taken to discarding any spoiled-looking meats, and I don’t bother to seek extras.] So, I’ve made the recipe more flexible in terms of weights and measures for the dates, chestnuts, and sugar. I also use vanilla extract instead of seeds and pods to cut down on costs [and seeds in teeth]. Finally, due to some random editorial/printing error, the cookbook didn’t include Orange Flower Water and its proper measure in the ingredients list. So, I improvised by including a tablespoonful. I might, in fact, add an extra tablespoonful [upping the ante to 2 tbs] in my next few batches. If in doubt, go gently, especially when giving away your jams!
Please note, this amazing spread really likes to bubble up. So, again, if you’re planning on giving your jam to friends and family, be sure to try and get as many air pockets and bubbles out of the jar before sealing and canning by using a clean rubber spatula, spoon, or chopstick. Any remaining air-bubbles should be fine, especially if you are using a hot water bath to can things. But it’s probably better not to give gifts of jam with a bunch of bubbles or air-pockets!
This Date Chestnut Spread with Orange Flower water tastes great on buttered toast and buttery croissants. It’s pretty fab in thumb-print cookies. And, I’m hoping to try it in a thin layer, paired with whipped cream, between two chocolate cakes.
Date Chestnut Spread with Orange Flower Water
- 700 g fresh chestnuts [you may wish to prepare more, as spoilage cannot always be seen until after boiling and shelling]
- 350 g pitted dates [preferably fresh Medjools]
- 800 g white sugar
- 1 tbs vanilla
- 1 tbs orange flower water
- 1 medium lemon, juice of [or juice of half of a larger fruit]
- Prepare the chestnuts by using a knife or X-Acto to cut a cross in each one.
- Place them in a pot of boiling water and blanch for 10 minutes.
- Strain, and allow to cool for 15 minutes before peeling, discarding the skins. [The meats will look like tiny brains!]
- Weigh the chestnuts that survived the shelling. Use half that weight of dates in your jam. Or, measure a total combined weight of chestnuts and dates to equal 1050-1100 grams.
- Place the chestnuts and dates in a saucepan.
- Add just enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil.
- Return to a simmer and cook for approximately 20 minutes, until the chestnuts are cooked through, like little potatoes. The liquid should evaporate or become incorporated into the mixture.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- Place the mixture in a Vitamix or use a hand blender to form a thick paste.
- Weigh the mixture. You should have 1 1/3 kilograms or about 1300 grams. [Write down the number of grams if you have more or less.]
- Measure out your [800 grams of] sugar. [If you have more or less than 1300 grams of puree, then multiply the number of grams you have by .60 to estimate how much total sugar you will need.]
- Put the puree and the sugar into a clean jam pan or another heavy-bottomed saucepan.
- Cook the puree over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the vanilla, orange blossom water, and lemon juice.
- Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes, stirring as much as necessary to ensure the bottom doesn't burn.
- Pour or spoon the spread into clean, sterilized quarter-pint jam jars, leaving about a quarter-inch headspace.
- Use a spoon, skewer, chopstick or small spatula to get out as many airpockets as possible! You can also try tapping it on the countertop. But be sure to protect your hands from burning.
- Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. [12 minutes for larger jars.]
- Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.
- Tap the semi-cooled jars on a table or countertop to get more bubbles out. You may not get everything. And the jam will still be fine!
- Cool completely, label, and enjoy!