During my recent travels through Israel, one of the many things that made me over-the-moon happy happened to be the “Israeli Breakfast”- a veritable feast. A number of the hotels in this country provide a large buffet breakfast as part of their nightly fee. You cannot begin to imagine, if you haven’t actually seen the spread, how unbelievable and daunting this meal can be. The self -serve tables included countless types of fruits and juices and many different vegetable salads (and yes, vegetables provided a wonderful start to my day!). Cheeses of every kind, texture and variety, nuts, seeds, granola, hot and cold eggs, soufflés, frittatas, kugels, coffee, tea, breads, pastry … even dessert. Needless to say the times we stayed in nice hotels (five nights) we were so full after breakfast that we couldn’t even think about food until early evening. This is remarkable given that Israel is replete with street food on nearly every corner that would typically make me stop in my tracks.
Let’s go back in time – back about 62 years. When I was young, my aunts in Marshalltown, Iowa (a.k.a the “original” sisters) were fantastic cooks and bakers. Their kitchen in the country was literally the cleanest place you can imagine – after all, they didn’t have children. They always brought jars of plum preserves to our family of seven whenever they made the five hour trek to visit us. Their small glass containers always were topped with a layer of thick parafin wax and a wick to remove the wax. I guess this was their way of keeping out air and preserving the jam, or “Pavatel” (PAW-va-tell) as we called it – and my Aunt Lena learned how to make this in Russia before she immigrated to the United States. This type of condiment is Eastern European in origin and coincidentally my husband’s Polish grandmother also made a very similar type of preserves that we would eat smeared on thick, warm rye bread (in Poland this is known as Powidlas).
Now … back to the Israeli breakfast experience. Our last hotel breakfast included fresh plum preserves. I could taste the presence of star anise, which gave it a notable flavor. Every single day I took scoops of the jam and topped my yogurt, my granola, and even ate it with fresh cheese and bread. What I wouldn’t give for an Israeli breakfast right now!
And I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian plums. They are my favorite for rustic tarts or even purple plum pie. I stew them with a little water, a cinnamon stick and a drop of honey if I need the sweetness and eat this kind of like applesauce. Recently I made this for my grandkids and because they weren’t crazy about the plum peels in the stewed fruit, I pureed the whole pan full! They ate it like that and I put some into a squeeze bottle, thinned it more with some orange juice and used this to garnish plates of salad and even a sweet and sour chicken dish.
Here is my version of Pavatel – with the addition of star anise and lemon peel. If you’re not a star anise fan or a licorice lover, substitute about a one-inch piece of cinnamon.
“Pavatel”- Italian Plum Jam with Star Anise
Makes 3 cups
- 2 lbs chopped Italian plums (aka Damson plums–dark purple peels, small and oval shaped with yellow green pulp)
- 1 ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 3 whole dried star anise blossoms
- 3 –2-inch strips x ½ inch strips of lemon zest
After washing the fruit, I prepare the plums by cutting each in half, removing the center seed and then cutting into half again to make quarters. The stone in the middle pulls away easily from the flesh. You can substitute a quarter of the plums with halved red seedless grapes like they sometimes do in Israel.
Combine quartered plums, sugar, strips of lemon zest and star anise blossoms. Stir together and let the mixture sit in a sauce pan covered for at least an hour, or until the fruit has gotten quite syrupy. Remove two of the star anise blossoms and all the lemon peel.
Put the mixture in a medium-sized sauce pan and place over medium high heat. Bring to a slight boil and cook for 20-30 minutes on medium heat, stirring every five minutes until the jam bubbles and thickens. At first it will look very watery then the bubbles will change as the syrup thickens. You can test it by seeing if it will stay put on a spoon or passes the frozen plate test*. The jam should be a dark ruby color.
I don’t can the jam; I just put it into clean jars and refrigerate. I serve it on my seeded crackers with spreadable goat cheese topped with just a dollop of the jam, and add thin slices of ripe pears or concord grapes to the plate. I love to stir this delectable treat into plain yogurt, slather it along with almond butter onto thick bread for a fancy “AB&J”, spoon it on top of challah French toast with some plain Greek yogurt, or even heat and serve over vanilla bean ice cream.
I have to laugh when I tell you I don’t can the jam…funny for a girl who loves to use her pressure cooker for soups, risotto, beans…but I just never got into canning. So even if you are not a jam maker, give this a try while the Italian plums are plentiful at Farmer’s markets. It keeps three weeks refrigerated or it can be frozen for up to a year.
As an aside, I often buy pounds of these Damson plums (or harvest them from a friend’s tree) and freeze them once they are quartered. I then use them throughout the year.
*The Frozen Plate test: Put two small glass or porcelain coffee saucers in the freezer while you are boiling the preserves. When you think the batch might be finished, put about a teaspoon of the jam on the one of the frozen plates and return to the freezer . After two minutes, take the saucer out of the freezer and use your index finger to push through the jam. There should be a slight film on top that “wrinkles up” as you push. If it’s not ready yet, boil the preserves for a few more minutes and repeat with the second frozen plate.