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.