A Letter About Jam in Romania
by Cristina

 
  If you are interested in jam recipes from Romania, please email Cristina, she will gladly help you!
 
 
Very interesting to read how people make jam elsewhere, sometimes in a totally different way from how it’s made in Romania.

One of the traditional mores for receiving guests in Romania used to be to have them taste a few spoonfuls of jam on a little saucer (and there were special jam serving sets you could buy, I have one of porcelain made by the famous Rosenthal, from the 1930’s, with very pretty decoration on the tiny saucers), accompanied by a glass of water, the frostier the glass the better, as it proved that the water was cold and freshly taken out of the well.

As a teenager in the countryside in the later 70’s I used to make jam, or the more luxurious variety – “dulceata” (roughly translated as “the sweetest of sweets”) – in which the fruit pieces are larger and hand-picked with utmost care to be the best of the basket, with the others of lower quality or not so handsome made into jam. The dulceata uses more sugar than the regular jam, and one has to make sure that the quality of the “juice” in between the fruit pieces is tip-top in terms of brilliance and pureness of colour and in terms of thickness too, not too runny, not to jellified, all these being the mark of the expert. By the way thickness, we NEVER use gelatine or pectine, but adjust the method to the type of fruit in order to make the most of the natural content in pectine that the respective fruit has. You do quince jam very differently from the jam of the tender wild strawberry variety – do you know the ones that are not bigger than a pea, but whose fragrance is several times stronger than the aroma of regular strawberry?

I did jam of: all varieties of cherry (white cherry, deep red cherries called “pigeon heart” here because of the resemblance in colour and size to a poor pidgeon’s heart, golden cherries, both bitter-big and bitter-small – the sort that is so dark that its juice would not come out off your teeth or hands for days, and whose sharp bitterness is nicely balanced by a sort of intense and noble sweetness, or jam of the very appreciated sour cherries), apricot – both green and ripe, peach, plums (not all varieties are good for jams), grapes (we NEVER boil them!), green nuts – which are a nightmare to peel and in times when no plastic gloves were available the stains on your hands could last for days and days, even weeks, and this is why this was left for older women to prepare so that the young should not spoil their hands, green tomatoes, all berries including elder tree berries, watermelon rind, quinces, or carrot. I’ve never done rhubarb or lilies or acacia tree flowers, although some people in Romania do it, nor have I done citrus fruit or exotic fruit as they were not, easily or at all, available. Much of the skills and habit to make your own jam in house was lost in the eighties when sugar (like many other things, such as cooking oil, or gas/petrol) was “rationalized”, meaning you were allowed to buy it – when it was available in shops at all, that is – in very small quantities, only 500 grams I think (it’s amazing how I cannot remember exactly something with which we had to live for almost a decade!) per person per month.

As a curiosity in Romania: A friend who lived in Iran as a child told me of a wonderful jam made of baby eggplants, whose taste she is missing today still, over thirty years later. (we do have an elephant’s memory, don’t we, when it comes to tastes, especially childhood ones.)

One last thing, I’ve read recently that a monastery in Romania has a contract with the Buckingham Palace for supplying them with home-made bitter cheery dulceata, which the Queen likes a lot apparently. Don’t know if this is true, but I can vouch for this kind of jam to be scrumptious. And I remember a trip to a monastery in northeast Romania in the middle of a very hard winter: we arrived very late at night and went straight to bed in some nuns’ chambers. When I woke up the first thing I saw was this cupboard with glass doors that was packed with labeled jars with all kinds of jam, most of them forest fruit, and I later learned that the nun that rented me her room was a very old lady with a sweet tooth, known to supply herself with jam that she kept making throughout summer and autumn