Though I grew up eating it, I never thought much of jam. Unaware that there was anything else, most of the jam I’d eaten until I was seventeen was the store-bought variety—overly jelled, painfully sweet—and I stuck almost exclusively to raspberry, on toast or a peanut butter sandwich. The summer before my senior year of high school, my parents took me to Europe. Our first stop was Paris, a city of which I was instantly enamored and where I first fell in love with jam.
The store was Fauchon, a luxury grocer whose shelves were lined with finely crafted sundries. We had come for the tea (my mom was a tea fanatic and had read about their legendary selection), but as I wandered the sparklingly exotic aisles, I found myself in front of a wall of jam jars displayed like fine crystal. A rainbow of jewel-tones, their labels read off flavors I’d never dreamed of: strawberry with rose petals, raspberry and litchi, bergamot marmalade, apricot and vanilla bean.
My mom found the jam, too, and picked up a number of jars to take home. I chose apricot and vanilla bean for our hotel breakfasts and picnics in the park. When trying a jam for the first time, you could do worse than to spread it on a Parisian croissant, as we did with that apricot jam. The texture was plump and saucy, not stiff as I was used to, and it dribbled into the folds of my croissant like honey. It tasted of sunshine, the sort that radiates from a field turned late-summer gold, vanilla’s woody nectar giving legs to the fruit’s buoyant acidity, all of which faded into honeysuckle sweetness that lingered in my mouth with the aroma of warmth and hay.
Each of the Fauchon jams we tasted were this way, like a story in a bottle whose prose we savored until we’d scraped every last bit from the side of the jar. I make my own jams now, but I had never come close to a Fauchon jam until this one. As I stirred its bubbling sauce for the first time, I found the fragrance vaguely familiar; and when I tasted a spoonful, I knew why. I was there again, sitting on the fire-escape balcony of a tiny Parisian hotel, experiencing a world outside of my own for the first time, bombarded by its sounds and smells and strangeness, completely mesmerized by its jam.
Apricot and Vanilla-Bean Preserves
From Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff
Makes about 5 Half-Pint Jars
3 pounds ripe apricots, halved and pitted (no need to peel)
½ cup rosé or white wine, or 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1½ cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
- Prepare for water-bath canning*: Sterilize the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, put a small plate in the freezer, and put the flat lids in a heat-proof bowl.
- Cut the apricots into ¼-inch slices. Put the apricots, wine, sugar, and vanilla beans in a wide, 6- to 8-quart pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, then continue to cook until the juices are just deep enough to cover the apricots, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the apricots gently to drain off the juices. Return the liquid to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced by about half, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Return the apricots and vanilla beans and any accumulated juices to the pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, until a small dab of the jam spooned onto the chilled plate and returned to the freezer for a minute becomes somewhat firm (it will not gel), 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and gently stir for a few seconds to distribute the fruit in the liquid.
- Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the sterilized jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.
- Remove the vanilla-bean pods and ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving a ¼-inch headspace at the top. Slide a piece of vanilla-bean pod into each jar so that it’s visible from the outside. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it’s just finger-tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately.
* This recipe may also be bottled without water-bath canning for storage in the refrigerator (it will keep for about 4 weeks) or freezer (it will keep for a year).