Okay, you know the basics. Now, let’s up your game
BY JORDAN CHAMPAGNE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANGELA AURELIO
There is something special about making your own jam. You get the chance to preserve local fruit, and much more than that, you can also preserve memories and create new relationships with people around you, such as those you buy your fruit from or give your finished product to. It also allows you more control over the ingredients in the jam you eat, as you can select high-quality fruits and decide what kind and how much sugar to use. I sing the glories of preserving your own food in every article I write for Edible Monterey Bay; now, I would like to introduce a concept that will take your preserving to the next level.
Once you have down the fundamentals of making jam, it is time to experiment. One of the most rewarding ways to do this is by adding herbs and spices to your jams. These flavorings will add layers of complexity that will make your preserves stand out—and even become completely unique. Adding spices can also be a wonderful way to clear your cabinet of all those seasonings you never got around to using.
One time when I was teaching a jam workshop at a mommy retreat in Big Sur, I discovered a new combination completely by accident. While my class was cooking down a raspberry jam, another instructor took a group out to the garden to harvest some herbs to make an “herbs de Big Sur sea salt.” He came inside just as we were doing our first plate test on the jam, and I asked him to try it. He tasted the jam and said, “Wow, raspberry thyme jam. I never would have thought of that, but it is delicious!”
We hadn’t put any thyme in the jam, but he had just harvested a bunch of thyme and still had thyme oil on his fingers when he tasted the jam. Raspberry thyme jam is still one of my favorite flavors to this day. (See recipe in our Spring 2013 issue or at www.ediblemontereybay.com/recipes.)
When you add herbs and spices to your jams, they start to claim more places in your culinary life. Raspberry thyme jam can be wonderful on toast, but it also does wonders on a cheese plate, or on a bagel with cream cheese, or in a dressing or a special sauce.
When you’re ready to start experimenting with making new jam flavors, I recommend taking a little of your jam aside during the cooking process and trying the flavor on a small amount. It is always better to err on the side of caution in these instances. The flavors should be subtle and help accentuate the fruit—not overpower it. Add a little, taste and then add a little more. Also remember that flavors usually concentrate over time.
Best of all is to have fun with it. The possible flavor combinations are truly endless, and you do not have to spice up the entire batch of jam either.
Here are some ideas so that you can see what I am talking about: Ginger is one of those spices that seems to go with everything, so it can be a good place to start. Strawberry goes really well with lavender, basil, cracked black pepper or rosemary. There is so much one can do with apricots.
Here at Happy Girl we added Nuevo Mexico chiles for a smoky undertone and won a Good Food Award for it. You can also try garam masala, cardamom or cinnamon. Peach goes great with vanilla, rose or star anise. Blueberries are a classic with mint. (See recipe below) Would you like to try some of my blackberry lime cracked pepper jam?
Jordan Champagne is the co-owner and founder of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. She has a passion for preserving the local, organic harvest and loves sharing her secrets at the workshops she teaches across the region.