When Carol Cooper, chief cook at Fruits of Sherbrooke, went to Hong Kong to visit a friend, she thought it would be nice to share some of the tricks of her trade. But her friend wasn’t interested in making jams – the climate in Hong Kong is mild enough to grow fresh fruit all year long. Preserving summer’s bounty in a spreadable form just makes sense for us as Canadians. “It was something I never thought about,” she says, “but it’s part of our national identity.”
Chalk it up to the high price of fresh fruit or a predilection for comfort food, but the fact is our diets often suffer during the winter months. Preserves are delicious and wallet-friendly ways to inject some vitamins and minerals back into your meals, provided you had the foresight to build a stash before the snow fell. And if not, our farmers’ markets are full of vendors with offerings far more sophisticated than Smucker’s.
When most people think of fruit preserves, their minds probably go to raspberry jam on toast. However, the uses for a quality jam are limited only by your imagination: Cooper suggests adding jam to recipes for salads, stirfries or ice cream, or for a meat glaze. She teaches a course on jam-making and encourages students to really experiment with their creations. As with a scientist splicing DNA molecules, the possibilities are endless. Choco-cherry jelly? Sure. Chipotle rhubarb ketchup? You’re the boss. You can even find recipes online for pineapple ghost chili sauce, but be careful – those peppers pack a punch.
A match made carefully
With great flavour comes great responsibility. If that sounds daunting, Phan Au, executive chef at Cured Wine Bar, can help. When you order charcuterie at Cured, the meats and cheeses are your call. But the condiments are made in-house and selected by Au. “Usually it’s one sweet, one spicy and one sharp,” he says.
Preserves can be used to balance or accentuate other flavours: A sweet blackberry compote pairs well with rich brie, and amaretto-orange marmalade tames a salty duck breast.
“It’s not so different from what your grandma used to do,” says Au, “but elevated. Old techniques, new style.”
Vodka Fig Jam
Courtesy of Phan Au, Cured Wine Bar
4 pounds figs
Juice of two lemons, about 1/2 cup
Zest of two lemons, about 2 tbsp
1 tsp citric acid (optional)
4 cups sugar
2 bay leaves
1 cup vodka, divided
1 tsp salt
1. Zest and juice lemons; set aside. Chop the figs roughly into small pieces. Fig skins tend to stay the same size no matter how long you cook them, so be mindful when you are chopping – you don’t want big pieces of skin in the jam.
2. Add bay leaves, salt, sugar, lemon juice and zest and half the vodka; mix well. Let stand at room temperature, covered, for at least one hour, but no more than five.
3. Boil a large stockpot of water to sterilize your jars and lids. Sterilize your jars and lids by dipping each into the boiling water for five to 10 seconds using clean tongs.
4. Bring the fig mixture to a simmer over medium heat and let this cook for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how loose the mix was at the start. Stir the mixture often to avoid scorching the sugar and figs on the bottom of the pot. When the jam is done, turn off the heat, wait for it to stop simmering and then stir in the rest of the vodka and the citric acid.
5. Pour jam into sterilized pint jars and seal. Place jars in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove, let dry and check the seals when the jam is cool.