In April, I spent a week and a half in Nicaragua. The highlight of this hot, sunny and beautiful trip were the four days 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 smell as it cooks is beautiful, and watching it 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.
here's what you'll need...
For the jam:
- 1 large papaya (850g prepared weight)
- 1 large or 2 small pineapple (850g prepared weight)
- 650g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, split length ways
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- Zest and juice of 2 limes
- 5g agar agar
For the scones:
- 250g plain or spelt flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 20g golden caster sugar
- 45g cold butter, cubed
- 4 heaped tbsp desiccated coconut, plus extra for sprinkling
- A pinch of salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 150ml full-fat coconut milk, plus extra for brushing