"In April, I spent a week and a half in Nicaragua. The highlight of this hot, sunny and beautiful trip were the four day spent on Ometepe Island, a gorgeously secluded, rural patch of tranquility in the middle of Lake Nicaragua where I spent days cycling, horse riding, swimming, lounging in hammocks and drinking mojitos watching the sun set on the beach. Although Central America isn’t often renowned for its cuisine (rice and beans are the monotonous staple for most meals), I ate well on Ometepe, feasting on fresh, spicy ceviche, barbecued fish and grilled corn, and fried plantain."
I also brought home a little piece of Nicaragua with me, in the form of a jar of pineapple and papaya jam. I spied this on the shelf at the Cornerhouse Bakery, an Ometepe institution which makes excellent smoothies and great sandwiches, and whose spiced molasses cookies and scones fuelled my journey to Granada. I had never even thought of putting pineapple and papaya in jam before, generally seeing tropical fruit as something you gorge on raw and unadulterated – if there’s a papaya in my house, it doesn’t last long enough to be made into jam. Intrigued, I took the jar home, and opened it almost as soon as it was time for breakfast.
Not too sweet, with a pleasant musky spice to it, this jam is complex and interesting and delicious, beautifully honeyed and golden spread on toast, scented with the tropics. I was kindly given the recipe by Laura from the Cornerhouse, and adapted it a little to make something a bit different to the original jam, but still deliciously exotic and tropical. The bright fruits are simmered with sugar, lime zest and juice, and whole spices: vanilla, cinnamon and ginger. The smell as they cook is beautiful, and watching them thicken and turn syrupy and caramel-scented will make your day. I set this using agar agar, a seaweed-based setting agent (a good vegetarian alternative to gelatine), because that’s what they do in Nicaragua, and it means you don’t have to boil the fruit into oblivion waiting for a set. However, papaya are quite high in pectin, so if you’re an experienced jam-maker you can always use jam sugar instead of caster for a little extra pectin, and just simmer the jam for a little longer, testing for a set in the usual way (using a sugar thermometer or a cold saucer and teaspoon). You can find agar agar in some big supermarkets and in Asian grocers.
It’s quite a subtle-flavoured jam, not too sweet but with the gorgeous butterscotch aromas of caramelized pineapple and the perfume of papaya, as well as the freshness of lime. Try and find large papaya for this, if you can – Asian grocers and large supermarkets stock them, and they’re easier to prepare in large quantities than the small ones; they also have a better flavour, I think.
From Nicaragua to England: this jam works beautifully smothering a just-baked scone. In keeping with the tropical theme, I’ve enriched these scones with coconut milk and shredded coconut. There’s a subtle sweet nutty flavour that forms the perfect fluffy base for a splash of sweet, zesty jam. A delicious twist on the classic scone and strawberry jam combo, you could have these for breakfast as well as afternoon tea. They’re a great way to get out of a baking or jam-making rut, adding tropical inspiration to your repertoire.
Around 6x 250g jars
45 minutes - 1 hour
Peel the skin off the papaya then cut in half lengthways. Scoop the black seeds out of the centre, then dice into 1cm chunks.
Put 850g of this into a large jam pan. Cut the leaves off the pineapple, slice off the thick skin and cut in half lengthways. Remove the tough core, then dice the flesh into 1cm chunks. Put 850g in the jam pan along with the papaya. Add the sugar and spices. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, so the fruit starts to release its juice, then raise the heat to a rapid simmer. Add the juice of one lime (reserving the zest). Simmer until reduced, dark and thickening (around 30-45 minutes). Add the remaining lime juice and zest.
Put 75ml water in a small pan. Stir in the agar agar to dissolve, then bring gently to the boil for one minute. Stir this into the jam. Cook for 1 minute, until thickening, then pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the sugar, then rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in the salt and coconut, then make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in the egg and coconut milk.
Mix together using your hands to form a soft dough that just comes together – don’t overmix. Shape the dough into a round about 2cm thick. Brush with a little extra coconut milk and sprinkle with some more desiccated coconut. Slice the round into eight pieces with a sharp knife, cutting nearly all the way to the bottom.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve immediately.