Wine & Food

    The French don’t need British jam

    3 October 2016

    Good to know that the Department for International Trade is keenly on the case of export opportunities for British manufacturers. An excited tweet from DIT suggests that their enthusiasm is of the coals to Newcastle sort which stops at nothing:

    Now, there is quite a lot that France could indeed take from Britain and Ireland in respect of food: Guernsey cream, unpasteurised (you’ve tried cooking with crème fraiche?), floury potatoes (Roosters, Kerrs Pinks, Queen’s); Bramley cooking apples (way better than the cookers you find specified in French cookbooks, if not for surface decoration); good salted butter (French unsalted butter is, to my mind, an abomination); and possibly tomato ketchup, not to mention well-hung, grass-fed beef.

    What it does not need, folks, is jam. The art of jam making is known to every European culture, for the simple and sufficient reason that it is an unparalleled way of preserving the riches of the fruit season for the rest of the year. Possibly the French are not familiar with damson jam, arguably the finest of the lot, but on pretty well every other front, they’re sorted. The best kind, obviously, is home made, and for the most lyrical recent description of it, allow me to refer you to Pierre Koffmann’s wonderful Memories of Gascony, his newly published memoir plus recipes:

    ‘Figs, pears, plums, quinces and medlars were all plentiful at this time, so September and October were Camille’s great jam-making months. I remember her standing by the fire, carefully watching the big bubbling copper pot as the sugary smell of boiling quinces, plums or blackberries filled the whole kitchen….’

    He goes on to give recipes for pumpkin jam, blackberry jelly, quince jelly, plum jam and…mirabile dictu, green tomato jam, handy for those who are fed up of making it into chutney (3 kilos green tomatoes, 2kg caster sugar, I lemon – macerate the sliced tomatoes in sugar for 24 hours; finely slice the lemon; cook the lot in a preserving pan until the jam is jellified and amber coloured). This is not a food culture that needs jam from Britain.

    Marmalade is quite another story, and good luck to DIT in trying to sell the proper stuff to the French. The Seville orange, bitter conserve isn’t their thing; it’s a uniquely British and Irish taste. You do get orange conserve in Europe, but it’s a travesty… sweet, not bitter. By all means try to broaden their palates, but it’ll take sustained effort. Not that it’s impossible to make British food fashionable; some years ago, unknown foodies introduced the simple fruit crumble to Paris as the acme of the fashionable pudding, and you can still get it, weirdly, in tea salons.

    But let’s hope the Department does its homework before trying to send conserves to Germany. There, ‘marmalade’ simply means ‘jam’.