A few weeks ago, I was fussing on Facebook about how I had picked up some contract legal work and wasn’t enjoying it very much. (If you have ever been stuck for hours on end in the statutes of our fifty states, untangling the particulars of some gnarly legal matter — or if you can imagine the equivalent — I know you will empathize.) When I mentioned that the only antidote to my misery was making jam, a friend and former co-worker popped up and asked if that might include making something out of passion fruits for him and his girlfriend, who had fallen head over heels for them.
It was a delightfully odd coincidence. Until recently, I hadn’t given passion fruits any thought at all, but suddenly I felt as though they were stalking me. If you watched the recent season of Top Chef Just Desserts (guilty), did it seem to you like every other creation was a passion-fruit something or other? That’s how it seemed to me. After that, passion fruits came in season and kept trying to leap off the grocery store shelf into my basket, but — at $14 per pound — I had to turn them away. More and more, my rule for preserving is to use only fruit that I glean locally or that comes to me as a gift.
So then there was Yaniv, out of the blue, asking “How about if I send you a box of passion fruits from L.A.?” The only price was that I make something nice to share with him. A fair deal, especially for a fruit that I’d never worked with before and wasn’t likely to get any other way — and that had already been pestering me for weeks.
Because a passion fruit has little flesh (it’s mostly pulp and big, slippery seeds) a jelly seemed to be the way to go. Also, when we were talking about flavors, Yaniv mentioned more than once that jasmine might be a nice addition. I was intrigued. Plus, you want to keep the client happy, right? I went to Peet’s and bought about a tablespoon of beautiful jasmine pearls. (At $19.95 per 4-ounce tin, a tablespoon was about what I could afford.) I’d scoped out and sniffed jasmine teas from several places before I settled on this one. The pearls retain the true, heady aroma of the flower.
Now here’s the glitch: My one disappointment with this first batch of jelly is that the jasmine flavor isn’t strong enough. If I eat a big bite straight off the spoon, I get it, but hardly at all. Once the jelly is added to something else, the jasmine essence is entirely lost. Both the scent and flavor were strong when the jelly was warm, but after it cooled, poof! Like magic, it was nearly gone. That’s not to say that the tea doesn’t enhance the jelly; jasmine or no, it reduces any tendencies the jelly might’ve had to be cloying. But it’s not called Jasmine Pearl for nothing. The flavor should be more present.
I don’t know when I’ll have time to experiment with further batches, but if you want to undertake this jelly, there are definitely options for bumping up the jasmine. Plan A would be to simply steep the tea longer, being careful to avoid bitterness. I’m pretty sure my downfall was being so concerned about bitterness that I didn’t let the pearls steep long enough. Plan B would be to increase the amount of tea in the jelly from 1/2 cup to 1 cup, reducing the juice proportionately. Because Pomona’s Pectin helps this jelly get its set, altering the liquids shouldn’t wreck it, as long as you end up with 4 cups of liquid, in total. (Says she, making her best guess.)
To make the jelly, I adapted a recipe for lilikoi (as the fruit is called in Hawaii) jelly posted a couple of years ago at The Artful Hawaiigirl. I confess, jellies always make me nervous — will they set or not? — and that’s even more true when I’m working with a fruit for the first time. But the Hawaiigirl’s recipe used processes I’m comfortable with, and I was right to feel confident about choosing it as a starting place. The flavor is deeply fruity and the set is pretty darned gorgeous. It’s not perfectly translucent like some folks like their jellies to be, but I don’t have a problem with that.
I sent a couple of jars to Yaniv in L.A. and he heartily approved.
3 cups cooked passion fruit juice
1/2 cup raw passion fruit juice
1/2 cup jasmine pearl tea, strained
juice of 2 lemons, strained
3 cups sugar
4 teaspoons Pomona’s calcium water
4 teaspoons Pomona’s pectin powder
About calcium water. Calcium water is an essential part of Pomona’s Pectin; it activates the pectin powder. The calcium water mix and the pectin powder are both contained in the Pomona’s Pectin box. The box insert explains how to prepare the calcium water before you make your jelly.
Making cooked passion fruit juice. To make the cooked juice, I started with about 25 passion fruits. They yielded about 8 cups of juice, most of which I froze for later experiments. If you want less juice, you can start with fewer fruits, but the process is the same: Wash the fruits and slice them crosswise, then put them into a nonreactive pot with just enough water to comfortably cover them. Simmer for twenty minutes or so, until the pulp easily comes out of the shell and the liquid has become golden and somewhat thick. (The Artful Hawaiigirl has some nice photos of this process.) Add a touch more water if it seems like too much is evaporating.
I found that the pulp would not come out of the shells without help, so I used the back of my wooden spoon to smush out the pulp after the fruit had been simmering for about fifteen minutes. Strain the juice through a fine metal sieve or scalded jelly bag. You can use it right away or store it in the fridge for a short while before you make your jelly. (I kept mine for about a day before I made the jelly and froze the rest.)
Extracting raw passion fruit juice. To obtain the wonderfully flavorful raw juice, wash about 10 passion fruits and slice them crosswise. Scoop the pulp and seeds into a blender or Vitamix and blend on the lowest setting for 30 seconds or so. This will separate the seeds from the pulp, so you can easily strain the juice. (Keep that blender setting low so you don’t accidentally make a seed and pulp puree.) I also put this juice through a jelly bag, to clarify it somewhat. And, again, you can use it right away or store it in the fridge for a bit.
Now that you have the parts, here are the instructions for making the jelly . . .
1. Sterilize your jars.
2. Measure the sugar into a bowl. Thoroughly mix the pectin powder into the sugar and set the bowl aside.
3. Prepare the jasmine tea according to the vendor’s directions. Go for the strongest, most flavorful brew possible, without crossing into bitterness. Do taste your tea before you add it to the mixture. If it’s bitter, start over.
4. Combine the cooked passion fruit juice, raw passion fruit juice, strained jasmine tea, and lemon juice in your jam pot. Stir in the calcium water.
5. Bring the fruit mixture to a boil.
6. Quickly fold in the sugar-pectin mix. Stir vigorously for 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin.
7. Return to the mixture to a boil and remove it from the heat. If there is foam on top, quickly skim it. (Also, if you notice that the pectin has not fully dissolved, leaving a few small lumps behind, you can quickly pour the hot jelly through a strainer to remove them.)
8. Ladle the still-hot jam into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Process 5 minutes in a water bath canner. (If you’re above sea level, add 1 minute to your processing time for every 1,000 feet.)
Makes 5-6 half-pint jars.