what the fig?

The first time I tried figs I thought that they were the worst. I was at university and my mum included a packet of dried figs in a package she sent me because she knew they were disgusting and thought it would be funny. Thanks Mum, happy Mother’s Day.

Years later, when I had put this trauma behind me and built up the courage to try figs again (fresh this time), I was shocked to discover that I had been giving them a bad rap for far too long. They are really unlike anything I had ever tasted before; a perfect balance of nectary sweetness while still seeming wholesomely savoury.

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In this part of the world they can be a bit pricey so I have always been a little reluctant to experiment with them but went out for dinner s few weeks ago and had the most incredible baked figs that I could resist giving them a go in my own kitchen.

This is a great dish and so versatile! You can serve it as a snack, a starter or even a dessert, and it looks beautiful!

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Slice as many fresh figs as you like in half, I would say about two per person as a constraint against over-indulging. I’m still not a fan of measuring anything properly so this recipe is really measured in pinches and dashes. Top with a tiny dollop of butter, an equal amount of honey and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. Admire their beauty and take in the scent of the flavours melding together.

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Bake at 180°C for 15 to 20 minutes – it really depends on the ripeness of the fruit you’re using but in my opinion, this is a prime example of when the saying ‘low and slow’ applies.

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A couple of minutes before I took my oozing little beauties out of the oven, I topped each with a tiny ball of goats cheese – it adds a savoury element to make it not-just-a-dessert food and the chèvre compliments the honey and cinnamon oh so well.

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The one problem I find with these bite-sized morsels is how moreish they are – I honestly believe I could eat my bodyweight in them!

 

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ode to the pomegranate

I had never really come across pomegranates before I relocated to Europe and was astounded by everyone’s obsession with them. Round and regal, with skin a strong, matte red, filled with tiny pellets; tart in flavour and vibrant in colour, pomegranate was this week’s pick from the market.

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The form of pomegranate that people are most familiar with is grenadine syrup. Dark pink and sickly sweet, to say the French are obsessed with it is an understatement! A guzzle of syrup topped with anything from water, lemonade or even beer is many people’s idea of a thirst-quenching treat.

Me, I prefer my pomegranates the natural way; popping a handful of the little red raindrops in my mouth – a million little explosions with every crunch. All it takes is a bit of a whack on the shell with the back of a wooden spoon!

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What I have also found interesting about Europe’s love of this interesting fruit, is how much it has been absorbed into architecture – in particularly in the south of Spain.

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The word pomegranate is derived from a bunch of Latin words essentially translating into apple of Granada, and oh, how Granada has taken that name and ran with it!

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Patterns painted on buildings and printed along tiles, buildings and fences topped with crowned bronze orbs – an elegant yet quirky touch to theming an entire region.

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a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

boysenberry and peppermint sorbet

How to make ice-cream without an ice-cream maker” is one of my most common Google searches. I love ice-cream, I could eat it every day and often do. Because of its relatively similar content to a glass of milk and a bowl of fresh fruit, I have no objection to eating ice-cream for breakfast. My one problem, something that has haunted me for years, is that I can’t make it myself. I know that they say you can leave a tub of fruit and cream in the freezer and store every 10 minutes for an hour to break up the ice crystals, but I just don’t think it’s the same. You aren’t going to get that smooth, creamy texture not will it be as light and fluffy as anything you can buy. I was stumped.

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As much as I rejoiced when I discovered how to make an ice-cream-esque substitute out of frozen bananas, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one flavour. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an ice-cream machine (or increase my dairy intake by 3000%), but I didn’t have an alternative to satisfy my ubiquitous cravings.

By the grace of god, or by pure accident, I made sorbet and it couldn’t have been easier! You may recall my recent cake catastrophe involving a large quantity of Italian meringue; the silver lining of that puffy raincloud of sugar was the leftover meringue. Not only is it delicious and very tempting to eat by the spoonful, it is also an excellent base to sorbet.

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The hardest part was already done; all I had to do was decide how to flavour it. Peppermint is an interesting and difficult flavour to pair anything with – you want to avoid creating something that tastes like toothpaste, but you don’t have to overpower the fresh, warming sensation of the mint. I opted to boysenberries – they are tart and tangy; a nice compliment to the sweetness of the meringue, but they also possess a freshness of their own that I thought would work alongside the peppermint beautifully.

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For each egg white of meringue, you want at least one cup of fruit puree. Because I had two egg white worth of meringue before I lathered my cake with it, I wanted about two cup’s worth of stinging purple boysenberry gloop – the equivalent of 500grams of frozen boysenberries. I whizzed them up in the food processor and stirred through 120mls of sugar syrup. Done.

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Upon combining the meringue and the berries, I left the tub in the freezer to set and thicken. Unlike ice-cream, it doesn’t really need to be stirred to break the ice crystals – it pays to if you want it nice and smooth, but you can run a spoon through the shiny purple icebergs just before serving and it will still be perfect.

The flavour combination is a match made in heaven; with each mouthful I was greeted with the raw freshness of the fruit, followed by the sweetness of the meringue, rounded out by a lancing hit of the peppermint – a whole meal in a single mouthful. Silky and smooth, dotted with bursts of boysenberry seeds, I was amazed at just how creamy it was, especially because it is actually dairy-free!

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Now that I know just how easy it is to make sorbet, the world is my oyster; I am unstoppable in my quest for ice-cream domination!

peanut butter banana milkshake

Continuing on the recent theme of drinks of the fruity and delicious variety, today I am going to share something a little different to my usual ware and fare.

I was flicking around on the internet the other day – I am constantly amazed at how quickly I find my very detailed search has moved onto a rather unrelated topic – and I came across a delicious looking recipe on the little kitchen for fried banana milkshakes.

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I love fried bananas; the caramelization of the sugar is my favourite part and I love the granulated crunch that surrounds the soft fruit. I fell in love with the pictures on the blog post and knew that I had to try it – so I did, with a little twist. Bananas are wonderful when combined with peanut butter; a salty crunch meets soft and sweet, and both flavours are relatively subtle so I knew neither would overpower the other.

Thinly slice four bananas, Julie uses two but I adjusted the proportions to be fruitier, rather than creamy… and also a bit healthier! Fresh bananas will hold their shape better than frozen; although they will end up being blended together so it doesn’t really matter. If you are using frozen bananas like I did, and if you don’t have a lightsaber, here is a good method of peeling them if you didn’t have the foresight to do that before popping them in the freezer.

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Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large fry pan, add two tablespoons sugar; white, brown or raw – your preference, and add the bananas.

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Once the bananas are beginning to show the slightest signs of caramelization, stir through a tablespoon of peanut butter – crunchy adds another dimension to the finished product, but again, it’s something that you can decide based on how you like it. Set aside to cool after about 5 minutes.

Blend the bananas with ½ a cup of milk and two scoops of ice cream. I used French vanilla (or as they say in France, just vanilla) but chocolate or strawberry would both make great combinations. Pulse until the shake is at a smooth consistency and it’s ready to enjoy.

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The flavour combination is one of the oddest I have ever tasted; the glass is packed with four bananas so I know it has a decent amount of nutritional value, but it tastes so sinfully good that I just don’t believe that. Maybe that has something to do with all of the ice cream?

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As someone who isn’t particularly a ‘health foods’ person, this peanut butter banana shake is a great, healthy dessert option, or something I would feel really good about drinking for breakfast, just don’t ask for any nutritionists’ opinions on that idea…

limoncello granita

We all know Italy as the land of pizza and pasta, beaches almost as beautiful as the people and so much sunshine it seems unfair to the rest of the world. It is one of the most widespread and well-known food localities, and we all have a favourite Italian dish which has no doubt, been bastardised by inauthentic interpretation. But there is so much more to discover than pizza and pasta; it is a nation of food just waiting to be discovered.

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Woody smoke fills the air, competing with the noise of the restaurant crammed to the brim with patrons giddy off wine and delicious food. An evening in the Ligurian countryside is always an evening of discovery; a hearty meal of panigacci (see above; a dish that I am too timid to ever attempt to recreate!) followed by this boozy little treat: Limonita.

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Pale and tangy, slushy with a little crunch, limonita is essentially a limoncello granita. Icy and easy to drink, it is a great after dinner digestive on balmy summer nights – and so easy to make at home!

I have had to do a little experimentation with this recipe because nothing I have found on the internet sounds anything like the way it was explained to me – although that could just be due to a lack of a common language. You might want to adjust the quantities of each element, but this is how it got my tastebuds tingling.

Step one: fill a champagne flute with crushed ice.

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Step two: add a shot of cream.

Step three: add a shot of limoncello.

Step four: add a tiny dash of vodka.

Finally, give it a bit of a stir and you’re ready to go!

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The trick is to get the balance of cream and ice just right; it is essentially a dessert drink, so fresh and creamy that you should be able to close your eyes and feel like you’re drinking ice-cream with the zesty lemon flavour lightly prinking your tongue.

If you are in the mood for a for something with a little more punch, you can make a dairy-free version; replace the cream with a shot of vodka and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and away you go.

banana almond muffin pudding

The heart wants what it wants, and so does the stomach. During winter I don’t give strawberries a second thought but I could eat them any day of the week when they are in season. But there are some foods that you can’t help but crave – regardless of the season and once your head starts asking for it, your stomach won’t stop needing it until it is satisfied. The other day, despite the humidity, I decided that I needed bread pudding.

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Maybe it was the little bout of rain we had last week that make we want to curl up on the couch with a nice, steaming bowl of pudding. I am not one to ever deprive my stomach of what it wants – it really is the force that drives, and controls me, so I made this little variation of a traditional bread pudding.

I am not a huge stickler for sticking too close to a traditional recipe; if you can change it to make it better – do it! While a bread pudding usually uses bread (as per the name), I have seen it made with brioche and croissants so I don’t think anyone is going to be too scandalised by the fact that I made mine with muffins.

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To begin, break or cut three large and slightly stale muffins into eight chunks each. You could use three croissants or pain-au-chocolat instead of muffins, or six slices of white bread. The muffins I used were banana and almond flavoured which I knew would give the pudding a lovely moreish flavour and it also meant that I wasn’t going to have to add much else to make it delicious – the work was already done for me!

Place the muffin pieces into a baking dish and set aside. In a recipe using just bread, pouring a little melted butter over top of the bread chucks is recommended, but these muffins were practically bleeding butter so I decided to skip this step for time’s sake.

For each muffin that you use (or for each two slices of bread) whisk one egg, a ¼ cup of sugar and a ½ cup of milk with a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon. This is essentially going to form he custard that the bread absorbs.

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“Custard-soaked bread” is not a description that does this dish any justice, so we need to make it a little more exciting. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of dried fruit or chocolate drops over the bread and pour over the custard mixture. You could use raisins, pistachio nuts or even cubes of apple. As I mentioned, my muffins already had banana in them and were topped with almond slithers, but I topped mine with fresh slices of banana and a few dried cranberries for a little colour.

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Bake your assembled pudding at 175°C for 45minutes until crisp and golden on top.

A nice crunch on top, and an oozy warmth in the centre; folds of bread filled with bursts of custard – just what the doctor ordered! And by doctor, I mean my stomach. Enjoy piping hot while staring out the window as the rain runs down the window, like tears at the realisation that summer will eventually finish, or refrigerate overnight to enjoy as a cooling treat in the midday heat. Or eat the leftovers for breakfast. I did, and trust me, your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds surely will!

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blogisphere unite!

We are almost on the home straight of Blogging 201 and I am running out of witty titles for my posts. Regardless, the topic for Day 7 is blogger challenges, events and conferences, something that I didn’t even know existed.

The challenge part of this post is to dare yourself to establish our own blogger challenge; essentially setting a group of bloggers with an ongoing task in a theme as broad or specific of your choosing. No mean feat, huh? I think that they could write an entire two week course on establishing a blogging challenge, getting it off the ground, getting people interested in it and keeping the momentum going. Maybe then I would have the courage to set one up, but in the meantime I think I will just join someone else’s.

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I suppose in a way we all run our own little blog challenges a bit, we categorise every one of our posts, even though most of them are rather broad topics; Food, Travel, Healthy Living, some of the themes I add to on the regular are a little bit more specific; I have Fun with Fruit where I experiment with ways to use different fruits in different ways, or Chippie Tuesday where I made chips in different methods and posting them on, you guessed it, Tuesdays.

After trawling through a list of different challenge groups, some pretty vague and some far too specific for me, I have discovered the Flavor of the Month page – subject: food (), timeframe: monthly () and a good following (). Bring on the first Friday of August to get the month’s theme!

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Okay, Dylan, hold your horses; upon checking out the founder’s page, she is doing a 50 day computer-less challenge which means that the next flavoured month could even be September.

Silver lining; that gives me time to brainstorm and set up my own challenge!

What cool challenges has everyone else discovered?

let them eat (cup)cake

It’s Queens’ Birthday Weekend in New Zealand this weekend, I always get a slight pang of jealousy knowing that there is a public holiday happening that I don’t get to be a part of. So I decided to celebrate anyway by making these strawberry meringue cupcakes.

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I think that for the French, the concept of a day celebrating the royal family isn’t one they really comprehend, and even if they were to buy into the recently resurrected global phenomenon of ‘Royal Fever’, its still not something they can really do, seeing as the last queen they had was decapitated.

PS I know this isn't actually her..
PS I know this isn’t actually her..

With these cupcakes I decided to celebrate her a little bit too; the batter I used for these cupcakes is rather cakey and dense (yet still moist) – paying homage to Marie Antoinette’s (alleged) quote,

Let them eat cake

Quite note: The fruit used in this recipe can be whatever you want, whatever is in season or whatever you find in a can at the grocery store.

For the cupcake batter, you will need:
-1 ½ cup of flour
-1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder (optional)
-¼ teaspoon of salt
-½ cup of softened butter
-¾ cup of sugar
-½ cup of milk
– 4 egg yolks
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-a handful of strawberries, I used 12 small ones

For the meringue you will need:
-2 eggs whites
-2/3 cup of sugar
-3 tablespoons of strawberry liqueur

If the fruit that you want to use is not in season, use canned fruit- the liqueur can in substituted for the syrup in the can! If you are using fresh fruit, an extra piece can be put on top of the meringue before baking for that nice little touch.

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Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until it forms a thick paste that you would happily sit down and eat. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolks, using just the yolks will give the cupcakes a lovely yellow colour but you can substitute two of the yolks for a whole egg if you want, that way you won’t be left with two spare whites at the end. Mix in the milk followed by the flour, dice the strawberries and mix them through too.

Fill 12 cupcake cases with the batter and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes.

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While they are baking make your meringue- whisk the egg whites with an electric beater, slowly add the sugar and liqueur until it has formed stiff peaks. I used all four egg whites and baked the left over meringue by itself in their own little cupcake cases, as a way of using them up.

Take the cupcakes out of the oven and pipe or spoon the meringue on top of each cupcake, place them back in the oven and reduce the temperature to 150°C, this will quickly begin to cook the meringue but as the temperature begins to fall they won’t burn.

Remove from the over and leave to cool before removing them from the cupcake tin. Serve warm. Or cold, or place them back in a warm oven for about five minutes before serving to crisp the meringue up a bit and let’s face it, we all love eating warm cupcakes!

If you are celebrating the queen like I am, serve with a pot of tea and club sandwiches.

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Voilà! Those lucky enough to be enjoying the long weekend, enjoy it! Those not so lucky, enjoy the two days anyway, preferably with cupcakes!

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mother’s day jamming

Rhubarb and feijoas are the ingredients to some of my oldest, and fondest childhood memories. They remind me of my mother and my grandmother and every time I see either of them I can immediately taste their tangy bitterness and smell the sweet aroma of them stewing on the stove.

Feijoas are little green fruit native to South America, they aren’t easily found in Europe but are abundant in New Zealand during a short period in late autumn. They are in such an excess that by the end of the season people are literally giving them away by the bagful on the side of the road. Because I managed to find some recently, and because it’s Mother’s Day, I thought I would share some thoughts on preserving these little beauties.

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The ones that I got were a little old; not so good for eating but perfect for stewing or preserving.

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I love making jam, I have previously mentioned my goal of living a lovely little self-sufficient life in the countryside one day so I see jam making as a very useful skill to have. As a child, I remember my grandmother being a very avid jam maker and her jams always tasted miles better than anything you could ever get from the shop. Was it because it was made with love, or because it wasn’t made with a mountain of preservatives? Who knows?

I was introduced to jam making in a more practical sense when I was in Spain last summer; I was staying on a cherry orchard where there were more cherries than you can imagine. Having all the cherries I could eat at my fingertips was great for the first few days, until my stomach began to churn at the mere sight of them.

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After experimenting with cherry cakes and cherry muffins and all other means of cherry flavoured things, we found that we still weren’t using them up fast enough, so with the help of David Lebovitz’s jam recipe we got jamming.

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I used this same recipe for my feijoa jam and it can be used with any fruit that you need to get rid of. Because the seeds of a feijoa are small and edible, like strawberries or boysenberries, this fruit makes a lovely thick jam because the seeds contain pectin; a natural thickening agent. Cherry flesh doesn’t contain a lot of this – the stems and stones do, but they aren’t edible. So if you are using cherries add lemon (or any other citrus) juice, lemon juice contains pectin and will help thicken your jam.

Begin by slicing your fruit into pieces as small or as large as you want. Use as much fruit as you want/have/can be bothered cutting up. I like my jam to be chunky yet spreadable so I cut mine like this:

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Place the fruit in a large enough pot that they only come about half way up the sides, for safety/mess reasons. You can also add any flavouring you want; I used ginger and vanilla. Cover the pot and cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add ¾ of the fruit’s mass worth of sugar, crank up the heat and stir constantly. It will begin to bubble violently and then all of a sudden it will stop bubbling and have thickened. Leave it to cool for about 10 minutes and transfer into sterilised jars. You can sterilise an old jar by heating it in the oven for about 15 minutes, add the jam while the jars are still warm and make sure you fill the jars right to the very top so they are airtight.

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I know that this sounds like a lot of sugar, and the healthier ones of you will try and get away with adding less. Don’t. it will only end in heartbreak. The sugar is not used here to sweeten the jam (it does that, but that’s not the main reason), the sugar is absorbed by the water from the fruit to the point that the water takes on a gelatinous texture. If you don’t add enough sugar, this reaction won’t happen.

If you are opposed to using so much sugar, add less, a bit of water and make stewed fruit. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream, custard, over oats at breakfast time or just by itself!