A Shared Tradition: Fruit Spreads

June 29, 2012

In her biweekly column, A Shared TraditionCIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly embraces summer's transient fruit season with four spreadable preserves.

Sweet & Savory Tomato Jam
Sweet & Savory Tomato Jam (photo by Sarah Shatz)

Molly

Though nothing beats the intoxicating perfume of a ripe apricot or the outpouring of juice from a freshly plucked blackberry, there is something satisfying about having the control to put that renegade raspberry right where you want it. And that’s where fruit spreads come in handy. Or, you could employ Amèlie’s raspberry fingertip method. When I was little, I did the same with Bugles to much less elegant effect. I digress.

Now is the time to make plans for your summer fruit. How else will you maintain your rigorous year-round jam consumption regimen? Frances would approve.

Scottish
Though marmalade was born as a quince preserve, it is now traditionally made with citrus.

  • Lemon would make a lovely counterpoint to summer’s tart berries.
  • Seedy raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries have the textural integrity to stand up to the spread’s chewy peels.
  • Soften the preparation with a split vanilla bean.

Northern Italian
At home on charcuterie plates and sandwiches, mostarda plays the savory side of the fruit spread game.

  • Plums have a tart sweetness and natural pectin that make them a shoe-in for this sticky condiment.
  • Mustard oil laces the conserve with an awakening punch -- add a handful of mustard seeds for extra kick.
  • Candied ginger doubles down on the heat.
  • Sugar and black pepper play up one another in the cooking liquid.

Hungarian
Lekvár is a pantry staple that takes advantage of the season's top produce.

  • Ripe stone fruits are cooked to a pulp.
  • Sugar and lemon juice balance each other out.
  • Add ground almonds toward the end of the cooking process to give the spread a little heft.
  • Flat crêpe-like pancakes or yeasted sweet rolls happily engulf the thick jam.

Serbian
Slatko is eaten by the spoonful (the jam is often called spoon sweets) and served to guests upon arrival with a much-appreciated glass of water.

  • Pit sour cherries, but keep them whole for the spread.
  • A rose petal-scented syrup gently stews the suspended fruit.
  • Strong Turkish coffee accompanies slatko at the end of a meal.

Strawberry Riesling Jam Cherry Jam with Lemon-Pepper Shortbread
Strawberry Riesling Jam and Cherry Jam with Lemon-Pepper Shortbread. Photos by Tricia Martin (left) and Sarah Shatz

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of fruit spreads. What other regionally inspired flavors would you use to make these smooth-operating schmears your own? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Like this post? See Molly's previous topic: Pickled Vegetables.

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

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4 Comments Add a Comment
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    alexandracooks says: My only goal for the rest of the summer is to go berry picking and to make a big batch of homemade preserves. I really have no excuse to not do this — there are so many berry farms within an hour from me — and this post is inspiring me. Also, I had no idea that marmalade was born as a quince preserve. Funny side note, before I went "green," I was living in Philadelphia near the Italian market. I befriended the owner of a wholesale produce market and was able to order cases of quince (flown in from Chili) whenever I needed — I could get them next day if ordered early enough in the day. I had a ball making homemade quince paste and homemade quince jam. If only I could find a local source for quince! It's such a magical fruit.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: I love your quince story! Now you are fully prepared to tackle local quince when you get your hands on it. I had a fig friend when I live in Oakland -- that was heavenly and they were local. Two for one! I would love to know what fruit spreads you end up making. :)

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    emily l. o. says: oh yum! i love the idea of savory spreads...i need to explore them! (and i especially loved the frances reference!)

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Frances' jam jingle always pops into my head when I think about fruit spreads! I'd love to know what savory varieties you try.

    about 1 year ago

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