In a couple of weeks I'm going to be changing jobs at work, so I figured that as a farewell gift to my team, I could give them some pickles or preserves.
The dilemma was: "What do I make for them?" A month or two ago I purchased a book online called The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. I had read that it was one of the best cook books of 2012, and I liked the idea of reading a more detailed account of food preservation. It's an excellent book with some really delicious sounding recipes and has proved to be a really useful guide some of the finer details behind pickling and preserving. So, I went to it for ideas!
One recipe in Virant's book that jumped out at me was the Caramel Apple Jam. He describes this preserve as being a "near-perfect cheese condiment". As it only contained six ingredients, and sounded a little bit different from your standard jam, I decided to make it for my team.
I also wanted to try water bath processing for the first time, so I went online and searched for some proper preserving jars. In the end it was easy to find some on eBay, through OzFarmer. I figured half pint jars would be large enough, and I had read that Ball was a classic brand - so I decided on a dozen half pint genuine Ball Mason quilted jam jars. They arrived within two days and looked fantastic. In fact, most of the compliments and questions I received after giving the jam to my team, was about these old-school jars!
The most difficult part of making the jam was shredding the apples. Grating them took so long, so I chose to use a small food processor instead, but I think my old mini food processor was a bit too small for the job and I would recommend using a larger one if you can. In the end, however, it turned out pretty well.
I found water bath processing quite straightforward, although it would have been much more difficult had I not purchased a canning kit a few weeks ago. I had previously read some canning horror stories online (eg: people ruining entire batches of preserves, jars blowing up under the pressure etc.) so the whole process was a bit nerve racking for me. I was really carefully following the instructions in the book, watching the jars closely as they boiled, hoping they didn't explode or burst.
But of course my fears were unfounded. The jam was totally fine in the end and the jars sealed properly. The caramel apple jam was perfect with some sharp cheddar on crackers, but I also think it might work well as an accompaniment to roast pork... something to try out later!
Caramel Apple Jam Recipe
Adapted from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant.
What you need:
- 1 kg of Granny Smith apples;
- 1 kg of Sundowner/Jonathan apples;
- 1.25 cups of white sugar;
- 2 cups of apple cider (I used James Squire's cider, but bought too much and drank the rest);
- A bunch of thyme (I accidentally bought lemon thyme... whoops); and
- 1 tablespoon of crushed black pepper.
The jam making:
- Chop/corr the apples, discarding the corrs.
- Grate or shred the apples, either using a manual grater or in a food processor (Note: try not to write off your food processor, like I did).
- Next make your caramel! Put the sugar into a pot with about a quarter of a cup of water. Bring this mixture to the boil, and stir it regularly. You'll start to see the sugar dissolving into the water, and then turning gold. Add in about two tablespoons of the thyme and the pepper.
- After another minute the sugar should change colour to brown, but don't stop there! Keep going until it is a nice red/amber colour, and then reduce the heat.
- The next step is slightly tricky/slightly hazardous, so be careful. Now that you've got a caramel, you've got to add in the cider. After reducing the heat, drop in the cider. The pot will steam and splutter.
- Now that you've added the cider, bring the mix to the boil and then reduce it by half, until it's a syrupy consistency.
- Now add in your grated apples. Put a lid on the pot and simmer it for five minutes.
- Remove the lid and cook the mixture down until it is in a jam-like consistency. This was my first jam, so I was a bit apprehensive about whether I'd got the mixture to a 'jam-like consistency' but it's pretty much when the watery liquid has evaporated, and the apple mixture sticks to the spoon in the way that you'd want a jam to. This particular jam is different from your usual jam and chunkier.
- Sterilize some jars (this recipe makes 7-8 half pints).
- Fill the jars with the jam, leaving about a quarter to half an inch of space to the rim.
- Preserving jar lids come in two parts, the lid and a screw-on band. Centre the lids on your filled jars, and then screw on the bands, but not too tight. You want enough room so that the air can escape during the canning process. I find that if you can loosen the lid with just your fingertips, you've got the right level of tightness.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Lower your filled jars into the pot, ensuring that there is at least an inch of water above the lids.
- Boil for 10 minutes, and then turn off the heat. Let the jars sit in the water for a couple of minutes, then remove and cool.
- You should hear a popping noise as the jars cool. That's the sound of preservation! (Alternatively, if you press down the centre of the lid and it doesn't pop up again, that's a good test to see if the jar sealed properly).