When Henry VIII of England received a box of marmalade from Mr Hull of Exeter in 1524, it likely contained Portuguese quince paste, marmelada. In the 17th century, when the citrus became plentiful in England, the definition of marmalade was restricted to a preserve made of citrus juice and peel. In other languages, however, marmalade may still refer to what is known as jam in British and Commonwealth English. Jam can be made of any fruit or berry. Or, even, a vegetable.
A step further from a spreadable marmalade is Pâte de Fruit, a sophisticated French confection made with precision and care. The soft but resistant texture comes from a perfect amount of pectin. We are talking about the sweet our elderly relatives never fail to serve! My grandmother used to display a glass stand of expired design full of them as a centrepiece of every prominent tablesetting. The modern shortcut of Pâte de Fruit is settled with gelatine, agar-agar, citric acid, corn syrup and who knows what.
My recipe today takes you even a step further from Pâte de Fruit, to the point the mass of fruits and sugar can’t be cooked a second longer. It is inspired by Indian fruit halwa. The cooking method begins with a meeting of lightly browning butter and sliced apples in a pot. The character of fat plays a secondary role until sugar is added. The combination of butter and sugar will gradually caramelize and change the intensity of taste and texture.
The final product is chewy and dense. There are subtle threads of caramel. It’s not melt-in-the-mouth, smooth Pâte de Fruit, but something that calls for serious biting. It is a fruit paste taken to an extreme. There is a balance of fruity tartness and sweetness. The taste of apples is concentrated, but rounded by butter and sugar.
It is up to you to what extent to cook the fruits. As soon as the mass pulls together, it can be removed from the heat, placed on a plate, cooled down and cut into pieces. A shorter cooking time gives a softer paste.
Any fruits can be used instead of apples. I’ve made it with pears, nectarines, peaches and plums, or a mixture of them, in the past. Additional spices – citrus zest and juice, ginger, vanilla and so on – can be used. Nuts, raisins or other dry fruits may be added. Whatever way offered, be assured, the recipient most heartily thanketh her Ladyship for her marmalade!