Cooking

Jam Session

Jams, jellies and preserves like you've never seen them
Photos: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table
Breakfast

Winter is coming. OK, that may be a little dramatic, but hear us out: Summer is definitively over, which means we’re doing anything we can to hang onto the best of the season. That means breaking out the canning jars and pumping up the jams, jellies and preserves like never before.

Amaretto with cherry, Frangelico with peaches and chestnut with tart cherry—these aren’t the ingredients for some fancy cocktail; these are the wild creations being crafted by Cathy Barrow, author of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry.

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Need more convincing? How about getting your hands on a peach and tomato jam? “Tomato’s a fruit after all. It’s not as strange as it might seem,” Darra Goldstein, the editor in chief of new magazine Cured, says. “It turns out this beautiful rosy color,” she continues, “and it has a peach flavor, but just enough of something else that keeps it from tasting saccharine.”

Not a sweets person, you say? We’ve got you covered. Chef and co-owner of Atlanta’s Miller Union, Steven Satterfield, has been pushing the savory envelope with the likes of “blackberry with thyme, bay leaf and sweet onion, strawberries with ramps, or even apple with garlic and ginger or cherry with red onion and red wine vinegar.” Top your favorite sandwich with one of these bad boys and prepare to have your mind blown.

Never ones to miss the opportunity to take it to the next level, we wanted in on the action. So we got to work on our own unique combinations. We’re talking fig-saba jam (see the recipe), apricot-cardamom preserves (see the recipe) and hot pepper jelly (see the recipe).

First, though, let’s blow the lid off a question you’ve always wondered: What’s the difference between jam, jelly and preserves?

Jams contain broken-down fruit, while that fruit gets strained out when making jelly. As Goldstein puts it, “Jam has body.”

Jelly, on the other hand, is essentially “a clarified syrup with no pieces of fruit,” Satterfield says. It doesn’t have the same mouthfeel and texture as jam or preserves.

Speaking of preserves: They are “on the other end of the spectrum [as jelly], because you take whole fruits and suspend them in a sugar,” Goldstein says. “When preserves are done well, they’re like eating jewels.”

Of course, the categories don’t stop there. There are confitures, marmalades, compotes, fruit butters . . . the list goes on. Master the art of jams, jellies and preserves, Satterfield says, then get creative and play around with other styles and unique flavor profiles.  

Take our fig-saba jam, for example. Saba, an Italian grape-must liquor, emboldens sweet figs for a jam you’ll want to eat on and with everything.

Looking for a hit of spice with your breakfast? Our hot pepper recipe suspends three varieties—jalapeño, poblano and bell—in an apple cider vinegar jelly for an addictive topping for just about anything—especially cream cheese.

Preserves, on the other hand, have more heft, so we pair sweet apricot with aromatic cardamom and ginger, taking cues from our friend, Satterfield, who “will put fennel seed or fennel pollen or black pepper in strawberry preserves.”

 

While each of these recipes offers tips for perfecting the process, certain rules of thumb apply across the board. First, it’s best to use some, if not all, underripe fruit. Underripe fruit contains more natural pectin, which will imbue body. In jams and preserves, pectin produces that crucial uniform, spreadable texture. Talk to anyone in the biz, and they are likely to be pectin purists, meaning having to supplementally add it in is not preferred.

Cooking time is also critical. “If it's loose, it's easy to fix,” Satterfield says. “Just cook a little longer, or you can even add pectin (although I am a purist and usually try to nail the consistency naturally).” Overcooked jams, however, “lose the fresh fruit flavor, because the mixture either gets too hot and the sugars caramelize or overreduce, and it scorches on the bottom from lack of moisture.”

“The secret,” Goldstein says, “is you have to take it off before it’s completely thick, because the pectin [naturally occurring or otherwise] will make it thicken as it cools. So it turns it this terrible paste.”

Finally, it’s best to add whichever spices, liqueurs or extra sweeteners toward the end, and to proceed with caution. “Be careful when adding very strong flavored spices,” Satterfield warns, “as they can overwhelm.” Consider yourself armed and ready to can your way to next summer.

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