Who doesn’t love spreading a healthy dose of homemade jam on toasted and buttered crusty bread? For some, there may be something strange about jam that’s made without fruit, but I would encourage anyone to try this brightly orange-colored and flavorful carrot jam.
Making jam is an age-old tradition in Iran (and the rest of the world); it dates back to the 12th century in ancient Persia. This was an essential means of preserving food far beyond the growing and harvest seasons. This tradition was also adopted and spread through many cultures who then put their own unique mark in the middle east and Mediterranean regions.
While we are all familiar with and adore fruit preserves, Iranians also turn many vegetables into jam. As well as carrot, you are likely to find lots of vegetable jams in a Persian pantry, including rhubarb, butternut squash, eggplant, and even the skins and shells of young pistachios!
I appreciate that jams are meant to be sweet, and I love sweets, but I find too much sugar takes away from the actual flavor of the fruit or the vegetable. Consequently, I often reduce the amount of sugar in my jams to suit my palate. This is the beauty of cooking for yourself, in that you get to improvise and adjust the ingredients based on your taste preferences.
I prepared my carrot jam with added lemon, rosewater, cardamom, and saffron. When I reflect on how my mother used to prepare this jam, she would likely have only used 3 ingredients: carrots, sugar, and water! As you venture out into your jam-making journey, feel free to add or eliminate some of the ingredients to suit your taste and palate.
We tend to associate jams with breakfast and as a spread with butter and bread. I personally have a deep sense of appreciation for mixing sweet and savory flavors. These days, I embrace flexibility in where and how I use jam to add flavor and character to my food and cooking. As well as spreading jam on toast, I use it as a topping for cupcakes, a filling for cakes, or a vibrant, sweet and slightly tangy layer on top of roasted chicken, grilled steak or baked fish. Since I tend to eat more soy protein than animal protein, I also add jam to roasted tofu and tempeh to develop more diverse and playful flavors.
The beautiful bronze-colored spoon you see in the photo was hand-made by my great-grandfather a century ago in the city of Babol, in northern Iran. For decades this spoon was used in our home in Tehran, buried in a red sugar canister from which we sweetened our tea in the mornings.
When I hold this spoon in my hand, decades later and so far away from its original birthplace, I can’t help but find a deep sense of connection to a man I never met. I find such admiration and appreciation for his gift.
A reminder of who I am and where I come from.
- 8 average sized carrots, grated (peeling optional)
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 8 green cardamom pods, lightly smashed
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 cups sugar, unrefined
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons rose water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- Wash and dry the carrots before proceeding to grate them. I always leave the skin on, but if you prefer, you can peel before grating them.
- Place the carrots, water, and cardamom pods in a large pot and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. You may want to put the cardamom pods in a teabag to make life easier when it is time to remove them from the jam.
- Once the mixture has come to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the fresh lemon juice, sugar, and salt and continue to simmer on low heat covered for another 75 minutes.
- At this point, check to make sure there is plenty of syrup still left in the pot. Adjust by adding a little bit more water if necessary.
- Add the rosewater and saffron water at the end to preserve their delicate flavors. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow the jam to settle while you remove the cardamom pods.
- Transfer the jam into pre-sterilized jars.
- You can store the jam in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, or about 6 months in the freezer. Otherwise, proceed with your favorite canning process to store the jam long-term.