Pieces of fragrant and ripe Pineapple simmer in a thick sugar syrup to form a delicious golden jam. ‘Mel’, the Portuguese word for ‘honey’, aptly describes this aromatic Pineapple Jam or Ananas Jam. A spoonful of it is like a burst of summer flavours! Whether spread across buttered toast, added to chilled milk or savoured with Puran Polis, this Pineapple Jam is sure to make your life sweeter.
Jam-making has become a science over the years, with the availability of candy thermometers and other kitchen gadgets. However, we still prefer the old ways of making our jam, just the way the women in our family have always done. All you really need are a bowl of cold water, a sturdy wooden spoon and some faith to make a jar of this special Pineapple jam. Go ahead and share it with the one you love!
Smoke filled the spacious kitchen as the Raandpin (cook) added dry coconut husks to the chul (fireplace). She placed a heavy aidan (vessel) on the fire, watching as flames shot out and the embers burned deep red. Outside, crickets chirped insistently and birds sheltered in the tall Mango trees. Summer was at its peak and the Sun shone brightly in the afternoon heat.
Most residents of Altinho would indulge in a relaxing siesta (nap). The peaceful silence would only be broken around four o’clock when the Poder(baker) would come calling. The jingling of bells on the large stick he carried would signal the arrival of fresh Pão (bread) for the families in the neighbourhood. All was quiet in the beautiful Carvalho villa except for the hum of activity in its kitchen. “Ai Saiba (Dear God)! This summer heat!” said the old cook as she approached the chul and poured a bright yellow mixture into the steaming aidan.
Hissssss! sizzled the aidan, and fresh, fragrant pineapple pieces began to caramelise against the hot cast iron vessel. The mixture bubbled along the edges, filling the kitchen with its heady aroma. The cook drew a chourang (low stool) closer to the chul and sat down, wiping her hands on her apron. The pineapple would take plenty of time to boil down. It would eventually thicken into golden honey-like Ansache Mel (pineapple jam).
“It’s good of Ayah (nanny) to take the children out this afternoon. Having them around the kitchen with large pots of bubbling mel is never a good idea!” thought the old lady to herself, as the jam began to spread its wonderful aroma throughout the villa. This mel was one of her many specialities and she preferred to make it on a quiet day.
A mound of sugar went into the bubbling mixture and the cook used a special daulo (ladle) to stir the jam. She’d taken great care to choose the pineapples for the mel. “Choose fruits that are heavy, plump and golden, without a bruise or blemish,” her mother would say, “Pluck a leaf or two from the centre of the bunch, if they come off easily you’ll know the pineapple is ripe. And whatever you do, don’t use pineapples that smell sour! Sour fruit makes terrible mel!” Having cooked the mid-day meal, she’d spent the rest of the morning peeling and chopping the ripe ananas (pineapple).
“It tastes magical!” the children would say, repeatedly asking for the mel to be spread across warm, buttered Pão. The Raandpin stirred the bubbling mixture as it began to change from light yellow to gold. Yes, it rather was like magic, being able to weave simple ingredients into something delicious! It was the first recipe her mother had ever taught her.
A long time ago, there had been someone else who’d described the mel as ‘magical’. She remembered herself as a young girl, sitting at a much smaller and simpler chul, stirring life and love into a small batch of jam for a special boy. She’d been enamoured with his dark eyes and deep voice and agonised over what to gift him for his birthday. A small glass jar had been one of her most precious possessions. Having filled it with the warm pineapple jam, she’d shyly offered the jar to the one she loved.
A loud ‘Pop!’ brought the cook out of her reverie. The jam was thickening well and would be ready to pour out in a while. “Oh, that lapit (useless person)! I’ll have to remind the gardener again. We’ll have to call the padeli (coconut plucker) soon!” she exclaimed, looking out the zanel (window). Once the monsoon begins he’ll refuse to climb up the slippery tree trunks. Martin ought to know by now that we need our soi (freshly grated coconut) every day!”
Evening light poured into the kitchen and it would soon be time to light the lamps. The Raandpin carefully poured the warm jam into tall ceramic jars of white and brown. Ayah and the children had returned home and she could hear the children running down the hallway. Nobody could resist the aroma of the freshly made jam! The old cook smiled, happy and content with a good day’s work. She melted spoonfuls of ghee (clarified butter) on a warm tawa (pan), ready to toast some buttered Pão to go with the mel.
And whatever happened to that special young man? Why she’d married him of course! And even after forty-three years, he still relished the flavourful pineapple jam as much as he had all those years ago!
Pineapple Jam Recipe
(Makes about a cup of Jam)
- 1 cup finely chopped Pineapple pieces
- 1/4 cup Water
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 1 1/2 inch piece Cinnamon (Dalchini)
- Zest of 1 Lemon
- 2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
Begin by placing a heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan on medium flame. Once the pan is hot, add in the finely chopped pineapple pieces and water. Stir to combine and cook for five minutes on medium flame. Meanwhile, zest a lemon, carefully avoiding the bitter white pith and keep aside.
Stir the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest into the bubbling pineapple mixture. As the sugar melts, the pineapple mixture will seem to become more liquid. Continue to cook the mixture on medium flame, stirring often with a heatproof spatula. This is to prevent the syrup from burning along the sides of the pan. The pineapple pieces will begin to change from light yellow to a dark golden colour as they cook in the sugar syrup.
Fill a small bowl with about two inches of cold water. Wait until most of the liquid in the pineapple mixture seems to have evaporated. Then pour a teaspoonful of the thick syrup into the bowl of cold water. You’ll know the jam is ready if you’re able to form a soft, pliable ball out of the syrup. If the syrup simply dissolves into the water, cook the pineapple mixture for a few more minutes, testing every two-three minutes to check if the jam has cooked.
Once the jam is ready, take the pan off the flame and stir in the lemon juice. Lemon juice and sugar work together to preserve the fruit better. Pour the jam into a small, heatproof glass jar. Allow the jam to cool completely. Cover the jar and store the jam in the refrigerator for five to seven days. If you’d like to store the jam longer, a sterilised glass jar would have to be used to store the jam.
The Pineapple may be ground into a paste if you prefer a smoother jam. We rather like the small chunks of pineapple suspended in the thick golden syrup and have chosen to chop the pineapple instead.
The Pineapple jam may be flavoured any way you like. We’ve chosen cinnamon and lemon zest for an additional burst of flavour. You could leave them out of the recipe if you prefer.
I haven’t tried to sterilise the glass jar and would appreciate advice from anyone who has had success with the process.
If adding pineapple jam to milk, always add it to cold milk as warm milk might curdle with the acidity of the mixture.
Be sure to go through our recipe for Candied Oranges too! It’s a fabulous way of preserving sweet citrus fruits.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.