Lime jelly and the postmodernists

When teaching undergraduates about the postmodern novel, I give them clues what to look for. One of the easiest ways to test for postmodernism is to ask whether a novel is constantly pointing at itself, shouting ‘Hey! Look at me. I’m a work of fiction!’ So Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is postmodern, but Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land is not. Although both are in my view perfectly brilliant novels.

Thinking about attention-seeking postmodern novels with ‘novel-ness’ written all over them reminded me of that phase in food when everything was served inside itself. So cabbage was made more postmodernly cabbage-ey by being presented as soup inside a hollowed out cabbage. ‘Hi’, it drawled smugly when it got to the table. ‘Did you know that I’m 100% pure cabbage? Just look at me. I’m so damn cute.’ Mushrooms, apples, potatoes, pumpkins were made more flouncily, showily themselves by being cooked inside their own skins. I’m not really a fan of any of them – especially the cabbage. Making the hole in the cabbage both large enough for a serving of soup as well as sufficiently leak-proof, involves using such an extraordinarily large specimen that quite honestly you need to eat alone in order to have enough room at the table.

But when it comes to postmodern food, I will always make an exception. Do you remember those scooped out jelly oranges we used to have at children’s parties? Half an orange filled with orange jelly is just pure, unadulterated pleasure in my opinion. So, as a treat for postmodernists everywhere, here’s something to lift your poor, jaded spirits. But be careful – if you lift your spirits too much, you won’t be postmodern anymore.

Postmodern Lime Jelly – with stripes

I am indebted to the wonderful Bompas & Parr jelly book for advice on quantities and techniques. I would serve these jelly wedges with mojito cocktails. Why have a lime wedge when you can have a jelly wedge?

For the Clear Lime Jelly

6 limes

125ml sugar syrup – make this by bringing 125mls of water to the boil, removing from the heat and then stirring in 125g of caster sugar until it dissolves

150ml water

5 leaves gelatine

Half the 6 limes and squeeze the juice into a jug. You should have 225 ml of juice. Reserve the skins of 5 of the limes to pour the jelly into. Turn the skins inside out and then peel the pith away from the centre, until the skins are completely clean. Put them in the fridge to start chilling. This will help the setting process later.

Save the 6th lime shell for the cream jelly.

Add the water to the juice and the sugar syrup. Pour a little of the mixture over the 5 gelatine leaves which you have snipped into a heat-proof bowl. After ten minutes soaking, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the gelatine dissolves completely. Strain into a measuring jug.

For the Cream Lime Jelly

4 leaves gelatine

100 ml water

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of the 6th lime

400ml full cream milk

Cut the gelatine up and place it into a heat proof bowl with the water, sugar and zest of lime. Allow it to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes and then place over a gently simmering pan until it dissolves. Add the milk and then strain it through a sieve into a measuring jug.

Here comes the slow, fiddly part. Rest the 10 chilled lime skin shells inside an egg box or the egg container in your fridge. Pour a layer of clear jelly into each shell and allow to cool for half an hour or so, or until set. Repeat the layers until the lime shells are full.

You will be left with enough of the 2 different jelly liquids to make 3 or 4 extra servings in standard moulds.

Once the jelly limes are set, slice them in half again, to reveal the stripes. Pour the mojitos, hand out the wedges and listen to Leonard Cohen.

Pimm’s jelly – or what to do when you’ve only grown five strawberries

When your entire strawberry crop amounts to five, an effortlessly bountiful bowl of fruit and cream isn’t going to work. The general rule is the fewer of something you have, the harder you have to try – unless you’re talking about kidneys, in which case just be very relieved.

The five fruits I’ve managed to grow are pretty good ones. I could have put them in a jug of Pimm’s, but that didn’t seem ceremonial enough for the Grand Harvest.

Trapping them in Pimm’s jelly felt more in keeping with their status as precious treasure. The psychology of this had something to do with locking them in a figurative bank vault I think.

I was also in the mood to drag out my jelly moulds. My mum’s great friend Sally – the person who encouraged me to throw eggs over the roof when I was little – gave the moulds to me when I went to university, along with the complete works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Jelly and poetry cater for a lot of things in life I think.

Pimm’s Jelly

Makes enough for about six

4 sheets gelatine

570 ml of Pimm’s and lemonade, mixed one part Pimm’s with three parts lemonade

5 strawberries, sliced

Snip the gelatine into small pieces and add to a bowl with about 50 mls of the Pimm’s mix. Leave for ten minutes and then warm the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once the gelatine is thoroughly melted, pour the mixture into the moulds, with a few pieces of strawberry in each.

Cool in the fridge for a couple of hours and then tip the jelly out into bowls that will show off the glory of the precious fruit. I made a pure lemonade version for my children, using the same technique.

Eat the jelly looking at a beautiful view and exclaiming in amazement about the deliciousness of the berries. Make a mental note to do better next year.

Plum jelly and hot baths

It’s village fete season – the time for jam-buying, second-hand book swapping and cake-making.I bought grapefruit marmalade and quince jam – a jar of blackcurrant jelly was thrown in for good measure. My neighbours, who know I can’t be trusted with anything in the garden, got to the fete early and bought me two courgette plants. Apparently even a fool can grow a courgette. I’ll let you know.

It’s been a week of neighbourliness, which is just as well. We haven’t had hot water in this house for two weeks, no water at all for two days and now the ‘phone line has died a death. I’ve never been offered more hot baths in my life. We’ve become a familiar sight, traipsing out of the house with towels under our arms, off for a scrub in someone else’s bathroom. And to cap it all, I got back last night to discover that a bundle of rhubarb as thick as firewood had been posted over the garden wall. So I’m feeling very cherished. Courgettes, rhubarb and other people’s hot water.

Inspired by the village fete, I’ve been doing a little jelly-making of my own. I have a vexed relationship with preserves and especially chutney. Too often it’s like slurry. It’s the opacity of it that makes me shudder. The sense that nothing will pierce the murky gloom inside the jar – and even if I could see what was inside, I’d pay not to. But this plum and chilli jelly is a different matter. I swear you could read a book through it if you wanted to.

Plum and Chilli Jelly

1 kg cooking apples

1 kg Victoria plums, stones removed

180 ml red wine vinegar

Caster sugar

4 red chillies sliced into thin rounds and the seeds removed

Chop the apples – don’t peel them – and put them with the plums in a preserving pan, along with 1.5 litres of water. Boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and then allow to bubble happily for about an hour. Add the vinegar and boil for five minutes. Strain through a jelly bag until only a papier-mache type pulp remains in the bag.

Measure how much juice you have. For ever 570 ml of juice you will need 450g of sugar. Place the sugar and the juice into the washed preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chilli rings and then bring the mixture to a boil for about fifteen minutes, until the setting point is reached. You can test for this by placing a teaspoon of the jelly onto a saucer that you have cooled in the fridge. (I must admit that I get rather nerdy about this and go through several chilled saucers before I’m sure). Leave to cool for 15 minutes or so and then pour your jelly into sterilised jars and seal.

Eat your plum jelly with a wodge of cheddar cheese and a glass of red wine, staring into the middle distance.