Monday, June 6, 2016

A Lunatic's Guide to Making Cherry Jam

It was one of those hyper, super-enthusiastic weekends that I occasionally tend to have. Thankfully, I have come to realize that most people do not share my enthusiasm and seem to look at it with the kind of wariness that you reserve for somebody running down the street yelling something unintelligible. Which, when I think about it, seems to describe my condition with a degree of accuracy which is unnerving. The good part of this realization is that these phases are unlikely to affect anybody else, unless the said person unfortunately happens to have some degree of affection or concern for me, resulting in him or her either trying to give me company or trying to understand and rationalize my actions. 

Unfortunately, these crazy phases still have to compete with my inherent laziness and reluctance to do absolutely anything remotely productive on weekends, which means that pitched battles end up being fought in my head, most of which go like:

Mind: Let's go to Azadpur Mandi tomorrow morning at 6 to buy mangoes and cherries. Yaaay!
Head: But.. the Mandi is 22 kms away. It is a wholesale market, possibly the largest in Asia. And most importantly, you cannot possibly consume, even with the help of the bottomless pits that you seem to share your house with, more than a dozen quickly ripening mangoes and 1-2 boxes of cherries over the next few days.
Mind: But they’ll be cheap. I wanna go to the Mandi.

Off I go to bed, dreaming of luscious mangoes and bright red cherries. Only to wake up at 9 am.

Head: It’s 9 am. Its already like 75 deg C outside.
Mind: I wanna go to the Mandi :( Why did you not wake up?

The next couple of hours consist of a dreadfully annoying debate in my head, during which I do absolutely nothing other than sit on my already toasty bed and get more and more pissed. Around 11 am, when the temperature outside has crossed something like a hundred degrees, I decide that I am indeed going to the Mandi.

Exactly an hour later, I am standing outside Azadpur metro station, cursing myself. After wandering around for some time, I figure out where the darned thing is. It is a pretty interesting place,to be honest. If you are a cow, that is. Or a foreigner trying to see the real India or some jazz like that. I wander around the place, with my mind and head going on and on as always:

Mind: Let’s go see that section.
Head: Why? Can we go home? Or somewhere where there is shade?
Mind: Oooh, there is an entire different section for fruits about half a km from here!!
Head: Dear lord
Mind: Oooh, melons!

Most people, after going through the above experience, and following that up with trudging all the way back to the metro station with 3 kgs of mangoes and 2 boxes of cherries, in the middle of one of the hottest days in Delhi this year, would (choose one of the options):

(a) Die (Sensible, about time you did that if you were bonkers enough to keep torturing your body like this occasionally)
(b) Sleep
(c) Spend the rest of the day in a zombie-like state, drinking gallons of water, and experiencing sequential organ failure due to heat stroke eventually leading to (a)

Not me, though. Having realised that I might have possibly bought enough cherries for me to survive on for a week without any other food sources, I decided that I had to make best use of them and not let them go bad. And so, a decision was made to make some cherry jam.

Now, I follow a fairly minimalist kind of jam-making philosophy. This consists primarily of waiting for inordinate amounts of time for the water to reduce and trying to get the fruit/syrup ratio just right. Just a few days ago, I’d made my first attempt at making cherry jam, which went like something along these lines:
  1. Buy an inordinate quantity of fruit. Something which you couldn’t resist at the shop, but very quickly realise you aren’t going to make a dent into with normal consumption patterns. Something which needs a disproportionately large amount of effort, like cherries, which need pipping, is ideal. Simple fruits like strawberries, which are ideal for jams, should be avoided (Is there anything like jackfruit jam?)
  2. Put 2 large pots of water for boiling. Put scarily large amounts of sugar into them
  3. Peel/clean fruit. Realise that you still have way, way too much fruit and about half a dozen less gas stoves to heat water on for this quantity of fruit
  4. Wait for the water to reduce. Taste to check that there is sufficient sugar in it to make you sick, even when it has barely started reducing
  5. Start dripping with sweat, since you decided to move into a house with no fan in the kitchen. Thank the heavens for having a maid cum cook who hasn’t turned homicidal yet due to his.
  6. Wait
  7. Wait
  8. Wait
  9. Dump fruit into water/syrup. Realise that still you have way, way too much fruit, even though you dumped only about a third of it. Put more water to boil
  10. Wait
  11. Wait
  12. Wait
  13. Rush out to buy more sugar
  14. Wait
  15. Wait
  16. Wait
  17. Exactly about 2 hours into the process, realize that things are finally happening, and that some progress has been made.
  18. After some adjustments in the fruit/syrup ratio, the jam is finally ready. All 50 grams of it :|
This cannot do, I tell myself. I did not go through all this trouble for about 3 spoonfuls of jam. And so, batch 2 starts. Except that I am now drowning in my own sweat, and after dunking the fruit into the syrup, I proceed to take a break for a few minutes. Unfortunately, my re-entry into the kitchen consists of a frantic dive into plumes of smoke, startling the feline which so far, unlike its owner, had decided that it was not moving anywhere away from its water-sprinkled mattress under the fan. A whiff of the smoke and the critter was bounding out of the house and into the neighbour’s balcony as if its own tail was on fire. As I put the badly burnt vessel into the sink, I made a mental note to sleep through the maid’s visit tomorrow morning, to avoid getting an earful from her. Restoring that vessel into its former glory was going to be some task, not helped by the fact that the main constituent of the sick, black mess in it was about half a kilogram of sugar.

With vengeance in mind and dreams of a full jar of jam, I start on it again. Now starts the fun part. After 2 hours, I have some cherries which have been boiled the hell out of, and a pitifully small amount of syrup which is not very syrupy. I google ‘how to repair runny jam’, and decide that I need to put in lots of lemon and lemon peel, for the pectin, which apparently magically thickens the syrup. And of course, water and sugar. So off I go to boil another large vessel of water, add tonnes of sugar to it, and start reducing it. After another hour of this, the newly formed syrup is added to the earlier lot. Further reduction happens, until it seems to have become thick enough. I decide to let it cool down a bit.

After about 5 minutes, I decide to have a look at how things are coming along. What I now have is almost rock-solid candied cherries, with a resin-like tenacity, sweet to the point of making me gag, with the fine ghastly bitter aftertaste of lemon peel. The whole thing is stuck into the pan like concrete. I somehow manage to coax it out, shove it into a jar, close the lid, dump it into the fridge and plonk into bed. Now, what could I do with those mangoes...

1 comment:

Tanu Gupta said...

Oh man! Your poor roommates, your poor maid! more than 50gm worth of a story you got from the afternoon atleast, hilarious read :)