Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser during the week. But come the weekend, the suit comes off and is substituted with an apron. With ladle in hand, the Dubai-based professional transforms into a concoctor of jams, jellies and chutneys.
With the radio blaring in the background, cats are shooed out of the kitchen, jars are sterilised and the countertop scrubbed until it’s squeaky clean. Bobker’s pots are on the cooker – she’s whipping up a dozen jars of Autumn Jam with apples, plums and pears.
In a different kitchen, over in Abu Dhabi, Bobker’s best friend Jennie Bishop, who works in the events division at Abu Dhabi University, is recreating the popular British sandwich accompaniment Branston Pickle with vegetables and bitter vinegar, labelling it Branstone Pickle for the duo’s community sale this month.
The cornucopia of preserves that the two British nationals once doled out as teenagers for their breakfast toast and prepared for friends and family on special occasions has evolved into Well Preserved, a home-based business, launched two years ago.
“Our preserves are different to those found in the shops that have been mass-produced,” says Bobker, a senior consultant for Holborn Assets, who also writes an advice column for The National’s Personal Finance pages. “Everything we make is based on fresh ingredients and we make what we can find here. We try to get more local produce if we possibly can. You will not find store-bought purées, frozen fruits and vegetables and chemical additives or preservatives in our jars. Everything is preserved by the heat and sugar in the jams and vinegar in the savoury mixes. We are doing things the old-fashioned way and this way keeping it natural and providing a healthy flavoursome option,” says Bobker.
For the next few months, Well Preserved will stock jars of Spiced Apple and Sweet Chilli Jellies, Cherry Jam, Marmalade, Hot Onion & Raisin Relish, and Date and Orange Chutney.
“The chillies are from my garden and so is the lemon grass used in some recipes. You cannot get more local than that,” says Bobker.
Bishop admits that they are always scouting for deals on quality produce to provide the most variety in their preparations. “At the moment, it is the dates season, so you can experiment with making spreads with them.”
Many of their concoctions are created after taking a public vote on their Facebook page and asking customers what they’d like. But the defining difference between store-bought preserves and those created by the duo is the use of pectin. Pectin is a carbohydrate found in high levels in fruits such as apples and cherries. It is used as a thickening agent when mixed with sugar and acid in jams and jellies.
In commercial jams, along with the fruit, pectin extracts are added, which raises their sugar content as well.
Bobker explains: “Many years back you couldn’t buy commercial pectin and you had to rely on the juice of the fruit to help set the jam. We like the fact that our products are not messed around with and that is why you can taste the flavours of all the fruits in them.”
Bishop says that deciding to omit processed pectin has meant judging setting points by trial and error, as they try to ensure their products don’t turn out too runny or too pasty. “Some fruits set easier than others and that comes from the natural pectin levels in them. We just have to play with that to make the preserves and jams.”
Bobker adds: “A berry jam is simple. You prepare the fruit, heat it down to the right temperature so you get the setting point right and add sugar. But when it comes to some other fruits, you have issues with pectin.”
She says they make a combination to optimise the pectin content in fruits such as apple. “Some of our jams will have something and apple so that they can set.”
Some recipes also have a small quantity of lemon juice to extend acidity and help fruits that are not sufficiently tart to set.
The biggest challenge for the cooks is taking time out of their busy schedules to make the batches for sale. “We have a relatively small operation because we want to maintain the quality. In a good month, we sell about 100 jars,” says Bobker.
The team sells at the Arte souqs and through their website at www.wellpreserveddubai.com, with requests flooding in, especially during the Christmas season. “The biggest seller we have is our Christmas Chutney,” says Bobker.
“There are a lot of ingredients and an awful lot of chopping, but it is a fantastic mix. It contains onions, apples, orange juice, raisins, apricots and cranberries. It goes very well with cold meats and cheeses.”
According to Bishop, their Raspberry and Vanilla Jam and Mango Chutney are a hit with regular customers.
They can never guarantee any two batches will taste alike. “The consistency will differ because it is made of fresh ingredients and that is the kind of variety and surprise people like,” Bishop says.
For Bobker, the task for the next set of relishes is upping the spice quotient.
“People in the UAE have a real appetite for hot spreads. I have to keep making them hotter and hotter.”
• Enquiries and orders for Well Preserved mixes can be placed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Recipe for lemon curd
The Well Preserved duo suggest making this homemade Lemon Curd recipe to go with waffles
4 lemons – must be unwaxed
4 medium eggs, well beaten
115g unsalted butter (not the spreadable kind)
Grate the rind from the lemons, finely, and squeeze all the juice.
Place in a heatproof bowl, stir in the eggs, then add the butter and sugar.
Place over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water.
Cook, while stirring constantly, until the sugar has completely dissolved, then continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture thickens. It should coat the back of a spoon.
Spoon into warm jars that have been thoroughly sterilised. If reusing jars, you need to take more care. It may be best to seal the jars with a wax disc to ensure the curd is not contaminated.
Keep in a cool dark place and use within two months. Once opened, store in a refrigerator and use within two weeks.
BOX // Preserve Pairing //
Branstone Pickle: Excellent in meat sandwiches and with strong-tasting cheese
Spiced Apple Jelly: Eat it with cheddar cheese
Apple, Plums and Pear Jam: Spread it on toasted bread
Spicy Tomato Relish: Put it in egg rolls, tortillas and on salads
BOX // Reading the Label //
• The general contents of a store-bought Mixed Fruit Jam include sugar, apples, strawberries, raspberries, red currants, pectin and citric acid
• The general contents of a store-bought jam called Forest Berry Preserve include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, elderberries, sugar, fructose, citric acid, fruit pectin
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