This pumpkin jam reminds me of my grandmother, Nabiha Aftimos, who lived in a world that had not succumbed to speed obsession, cell phone dependency or internet. Whatever she made in the kitchen took time, and it was fine and natural by her. She used to make these types of sweets with bitter orange peels or kumquats rather than pumpkin.
I plucked the recipe from Chef Marlene Mattar‘s , one of my favorite Lebanese chefs for her serious and rigorous work. She says that this was served to visitors in the olden days with coffee. Most Lebanese homes now have a bowl filled with chocolate candies instead.
The technique used here is still practiced (mainly in rural areas) throughout Lebanon; it consists in dunking the cubes of pumpkin (or apples) in a water and quicklime solution overnight. The pumpkin cubes are then rinsed and cleaned off; this is to keep the cubes solid while cooking them in syrup.
One option is to add diced bits of these pumpkin cubes to a basic pumpkin bread, just for fun and a little pumpkin chewy taste.
I halved the recipe and reduced the sugar.
- INGREDIENTS: 35 pieces
- To soak the pumpkin cubes: 1 cup pickling lime and 6 cups water
- 1 lb pumpkin cubes, about 2″ in width (peeled)
- 4 cups water
- 3 cups sugar
- 1/4 tsp citric acid (sold in all Middle-Eastern stores in the spice section)
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 sliver of lemon peel about 3″ long
- 3 pebbles of mastic, ground up till powdery with a teaspoon of sugar (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons of orange blossom water OR a couple sprigs of fragrant geranium leaves
1. In a large bowl, pour the pickling lime and water and stir to dissolve; let it sit for 15 minutes, then add the pumpkin cubes; stir again, and set it aside for 12 hours, stirring one more time. After that time, scoop up the pumpkin pieces and rinse them thoroughly.
2. Make the syrup: In a large pot over medium-high heat, pour the water, sugar and citric acid and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the pumpkin cubes, lemon juice and lemon juice and simmer for about one hour over medium heat until the syrup thickens. Add the geranium leaves towards the last minutes of cooking if using, or the orange blossom water or the mastic powder. Either one of these will add more aroma to the jam and it is not necessary to use all three (the recipe calls for all of them, I tried all and found that each cancelled out the other)
3. Transfer the jam into sterilized jars, seal and cool. Serve cold.
NOTE: Mrs. Mattar suggests serving these with almonds or pine nuts, previously soaked in water for 30 minutes if desired. She also suggests using other flavorings such as a teaspoon of anise seeds or a few cloves in the syrup.
NOTE: Pickling lime aka keless in Lebanon is easy to find here in general stores; in the US it is apparently found in Latino markets and called “Cal” or food-grade Calcium Hydroxide ( used for processing corn prior to making masa, for tortillas or tamales). Thank you Jane Elspeth for the info!
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