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Slivkový Lekvár - Slovak Plum Jam and Filling

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 02 November 2015 at 17:49

Slivkový Lekvár - Slovak Plum Jam and Filling


In a basic sense, slivkový lekvár could simply be called “Slovak plum jam.” But really, there is so much more to the concept of lekvár that this wonderful creation really deserves its own consideration, in my opinion. Under various names dialects and spellings, it is a staple throughout the Slavic world, and a delicious one, at that.


Lekvár” is the generic term for the preserved fruit of nearly any tree that is gathered, pitted and cooked down - skins and all - until all of the excess moisture is gone, resulting in a very thick, cooked jam. Sugar is usually added, but it is not absolutely necessary. Sometimes a small amount of acid and/or a liquor or liqueur is also added, according to taste. The special flavour that is obtained is a product of the cooking process and the concentrated nature of the fruit pulp, resulting in a very rich, very delicious jam that can be used for a variety of purposes that will add a delightful touch to any number of dishes. Some typical uses are as a filling for dumplings, cookies or pastries, or as a spread for breads, crepes, blintzes or pancakes - or in cooking sauces. Lekvár is noted as a filling for Jewish hamentaschen as well. I am sure that there are many other uses, but suffice to say that it can be used whenever a touch of sweet fruit goodness is desired.


Slivkový Lekvár” is lekvár made from plums, which are widely found throughout Europe and are especially treasured in the Slavic world. The plums there, known as Damson Plums, tend to be big, juicy, dark-purple fruits that are nearly blue-black in colour. They are used for a variety of food-related applications, and are  - as stated before - as much a staple as apples, cherries and apricots.


Lekvár is one of those things I’ve always wanted to make, but I have never gotten around to it. Usually, when this happens, it is because I am concerned that the project will be more complicated or advanced than it seems - and usually, when I finally do try it, I discover that it was actually very easy to do, with wonderful results. Such was the case early this past October, when I attempted lekvár for the first time. When my father brought over a large bag of wild plums - the excess from what he had gathered for wine - I decided then and there to finally give this a go, and consulted a few sources on how to make it.


When I begin a project, I almost always go to Wikipedia first in order to get basic information on a dish, ingredient or cooking method, and to familiarise myself with what I am about to do. The information is - for the most part - reliable, and even when there isn’t much, it is usually enough so that I can learn a few fundamentals. In this case, Wikipedia did have some good information on Lekvár: that was helpful in getting started:


Quote Lekvár is a very thick, sometimes coarse jam...or fruit butter...of pure ripe fruit [that is] of Central and Eastern European origin. [It] is usually made of fruits like apricot, peach, strawberry, plum, prune, raspberry, cherry or sour cherry, but apples, and less usually, green whole walnuts, muscadine grapes or figs may also be used.


Lekvár is used in filling palacsinta pancakes, pastries like Buchteln (or buchta), kifli, or strudel and other sweet yeast breads, pastries, cookies, and pierogi, as a spread on toast or biscuits, and in fruit sauces. In Jewish communities, lekvar is a common filling for hamentashen.


To prepare the fruit, seeds are removed. To remove the seeds, apples are cored and cherries, plums and apricots are pitted. [Grapes are handled differently; the] skins are separated from the pulp. The pulp is cooked until liquid, then strained to remove the seeds. The strained pulp and skins are then combined and cooked further.


The fruit butter is prepared by cooking the fruit, including the skins, in water until soft. Skins are retained to improve the flavor, texture, and color. Once the fruit is soft, sugar may be added, if desired.... The fruit butter then is cooked slowly, adding water so that it does not burn, until both thickened and macerated to the desired extent. The lekvár is filled in jars and the jars are steamed and locked.


In Hungary, good housekeeping calls for home-made lekvár cooking in the autumn, when most fruits are ripened. In Poland, lekvár is a regional food cooked in the Lower Vistula Valley.... Several villages organize folk feasts, during which lekvár is cooked in copper...cauldrons.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lekvar


Wikipedia also provided some interesting etymological information, as well:


Quote Hungarian lekvár, jam, from Slovak lekvár, from Czech lektvar, meaning electuary, from Middle High German lactwarje, latwarge, from Old French leituaire, from Late Latin alactuarium.


The first use of the term lekvár was noted from before 1350, used by medical practitioners as a medicinal paste or syrup to hide the medicine taste.


My primary and most important source for Slovak and Slavic cooking is www.slovakcooking.com. The fellow who runs the site, Luboš, has done a wonderful job of collecting many of what can be called “the grandmother recipes” of Slovakia and preserving them so that interested food enthusiasts can learn about and sample the best of Slovak cuisine. The best part about this site is that many of his projects come directly from Luboš’s grandmothers, which make them very special and very delicious indeed. Here is the link to his account of his lekvár journey:


http://www.slovakcooking.com/2015/recipes/plum-jam/


And here are a couple of other links that were helpful as I learned more about lekvár:


http://www.iarelative.com/recipe/lekvar.htm


http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2010/02/hamantaschen-prune-filling/


Armed with the sum of this knowledge, I set out to give this a try with the wild plums that my father had given to me. After removing the stones, I had 4.75 pounds of plums - skins, pulp and some juice that had run out. There are a few different ways to make the jam, including baking it in the oven or slow-cooking it in a crock pot; however, I decided to cook the plums in a time-honoured way: on the stovetop in my enameled cast iron Dutch oven, which heats nicely and evenly on all sides using only a small amount of heat on the bottom.


I did not have any vinegar - which is what Luboš uses to add a little acidity to the end product -  so I used bottled lemon juice instead, and this seemed to work well. I didn't know how much of the lemon juice to use, so I decided to try 2.5 tablespoons to the 4.75 pounds of plums, just as a guess. As it turns out, this might have been a little too much, so next time I will try maybe a teaspoon per pound. I had no rum or other liquor in the house, so I wasn’t able to add any to this batch of lekvár; however, it does sound like an intriguing idea for adding another dimension of flavour and complexity, so I will probably try my next batch with a little bit of spiced rum added.


Moving forward, I started cooking the plums in the Dutch oven, bringing them to a boil and then reducing the heat to a nice simmer in order to cook the excess water out out of the pulp. Every 15 minutes, I stirred the mixture and scraped the sides of the Dutch oven clean as the mixture bubbled merrily. As the plums simmered, I also took care to gently crush the skins and pulp with my wooden spoon, in order to break up the mixture into a cohesive jam. As the process continued and the mixture reduced further, I increased the frequency of my stirring and scraping accordingly, until it was an almost constant task.


Most recipes and instructions for lekvár advise adding sugar as the cooking continues. These plums were a bit tart, so I wasn't sure how much brown sugar to add; however, after reading around, I decided to try 2.5 cups for the 4.75-pound batch of plums and see how it would work. As it turned out, this seemed to be just about right.


After about three hours, the mixture reduced very nicely to a thick, lumpy paste that seemed to have all of the excess moisture cooked out and tasted very, very delicious, with a nice sweetness and maybe a bit too much tart. It is hard to define just when the lekvár reaches the point of readiness, but it seems quite easy to recognise and at this point it should be removed from the heat so as not to scorch the jam. due to the plums that I used, the lekvár was not the beautiful, purple-black of the traditional plums, but more of a nice, dark reddish colour with a little purple and brown; in any case, it tasted absolutely unique and wonderful!


At this point, I spooned the lekvár  into half-pint mason jars and processed the jam in a boiling hot water bath for 10 minutes. In total, I ended up with 5 half-pints and 1 quarter-pint of slivkový lekvár, and can't wait to use it with various Slovak or other Easter European recipes.



As you can see, this is very easy to do, so if you are still gathering fresh fruit - or if you are wondering what to do with any that you might have in the freezer - this project is very much worth a try. I intend to be doing it much more in next year, with all kinds of fruit ranging from strawberries and rhubarb to raspberries, apricots, cherries and, of course, with plums.


Ďakujem a dobrú chuť!


Ron

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 November 2017 at 10:08
If you picked a bunch of fruit this fall, and are now wondering what to do with it, this is certainly worth a try! I enjoyed it very much, and will be making more with the first opportunity.

I have some notes here from Tomáš (Furtwangler) that he shared with me a while ago; these notes confirm much of the information in my opening post:

Originally posted by Tomáš Tomáš wrote:

Slivkový Lekvár is our traditional plum jam, made exclusively with whole, stoned plums and no sugar in copper cauldron over a fire outside and stirred with a long spatula the size of an oar for many hours at night.
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