You know it’s pretty easy to make your own raisins, right? Preheat your oven to 150°C / 300°F, get the baking sheet, put some grapes onto it, pop in the oven and wait. The cooking time will depend on the size of the berries, on your oven’s settings and how much you want them to dry out eventually. Aim for a couple of hours and don’t forget to check them periodically for doneness. You’ll notice how juices leak out of the berries, collect beneath and evaporate into a gorgeous thick syrup that will caramelize into sticky berries outlines. Why make your own raisins? To get control over the end result. You can crank up the heat and get them shrivelled and deep dark really fast or turn the lowest setting possible and wait around 3 hours to find your raisins a bit juicier and livelier, more vibrant in colour.
Of course, you don’t have to dry grapes yourself. Why bother when all you want to do is to add a handful of raisins to your pound cake. Generally speaking, cooking with them is pretty straightforward. You open the bag, you wash them, you put them into your dish. Sometimes you chop them or soak in rum. Like they do in Jamaican cuisine before adding these boozie morsels to baked hams or pork roasts, morning porridges or coffee cakes. The recipe is as simple as mixing rum with raisins and leaving them soaking for any time: from an hour – for a subtle alcohol flavour – up to a month – for a strong rum punch in the nose. The culinary trick here is that every single raisin on its own doesn’t have enough potency to make you drunk, but a few of them will add the right sweet giddiness and flavour of caramel, toasted sugar or molasses. Imagine them in a sweet and sour preparation. Take 2 medium onions, slice them and cook in vegetable oil in a cast-iron pan, stirring occasionally and periodically adding a splash of water to prevent burning, until caramelized and rich brown. This will take around 35-45 minutes – a long but very promising journey. Now Jamaican time! Add ¼ cup of soaked raisins straight to the onions, mix everything well, let it cook for a couple of minutes and set aside. Now blanch 2 handfuls of broccoli or 2-3 bok choys in a pot with boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Then add your greens to the pan with onions and raisins, press 2 cloves of garlic to the mixture, season with salt and pepper, cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes and serve as a standout vegetarian dish. However, it can be easily turned into a gorgeous treat for carnivores: just add some sauteed pork with ginger and garlic or a beef stir-fry. Not a straightforward recipe for raisins, but meat and veggies love sweetness, it just suits them well.