This weekend was the second meeting of our preserves club and a weekend of firsts for me. I put my hand up to host this time round and immediately started fretting about the state of my house and what I would serve to my lovely and very talented guests (I made scones, for the first time, they worked!). For all the fretting and worrying I did in the lead up I’m pleased to report it was an absolute hoot.
I chickened out ahead of our last preserves club meet-up, opting to make pesto instead of venturing anywhere near a jam pot or stove. This was mainly due to the fact that I have never made jam before and, quite frankly, I was a little scared. It’s funny when I think about all the ridiculous things I have attempted in the kitchen without batting an eyelid and yet jam was one of those things that terrified me. I suspect its got a lot to do with my childhood, I have vivid memories of mum sweating over the biggest pot I’ve ever seen, making an unending supply of fig and apricot jams in a desperate attempt to preserve the massive bounty we’d harvested from our fruit trees. She had an entire shelf dedicated to jams in our pantry, at the time I was so sick of apricot jam but now I can appreciate just how lucky I was to be able to eat such great home-cooked food.
After days agonising over the decision I finally decided to attempt an onion jam after discovering a stash of them at the back of the cupboard. Having never made preserves properly before I read everything and anything I could get my hands on. Millions of questions and ideas suddenly replaced any doubts I had: ‘do I need to buy a pressure cooker? what about a hot water bath? am I going to give everyone botulism? where do I get fancy jars from? look how pretty those Weck jars are….’ It was at this point that I knew I was hooked.
I cut up what seemed like an entire trailer load of onions; made myself, Paul and both the cats cry and finally got the buggers to caramelise after what felt like an eternity. The secret, it seems, to caramelising 2 kilos of onions is heat and more heat than you think. Not so much heat that they burn, but too little and they will stew instead of browning up which is also no good. I tried two different pans and had the best success with my skillet but I had to caramelise in two batches which was less than ideal so bear that in mind if you give this a shot.
Once I’d achieved the golden glow of caramelised onion I started to play around with the flavours. I found a recipe by a lady named Leena and took it from there, switching out the sherry in favour of something slightly more boozy (Johnny Walker Green Label). Leena is a bit of a champion, really. She made her jam with a tiny infant strapped to her chest, the best I could muster in honour of her feat was a whiny cat which occasionally attacked my feet. Same same, but different.
So here it is, my Boozy Sweet Onion Jam in honour of Leena, my mum and the lovely ladies of Peggy Sue’s Preserves Club.
Boozy Sweet Onion Jam
Makes about 4 200ml jars of jam. Adapted from a recipe by Leena. - Vego - gluten-free
2 kilos of onion, peeled and cut into rough chunks.
2-3 heads of garlic, top chopped off and loose skins removed
4 tbspns rice bran oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup of bourbon (or sherry, if you prefer)
2 tbspns fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 tspn salt
1/2 tspn ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
Place heads of garlic in an oven roasting pan and drizzle a little olive oil over the top.
Put in the oven and roast until golden brown and soft, about 20-30 minutes.
Heat oil gently over a medium high heat.
Add the onions and stir well to coat in the oil and then cook at this heat until soft and translucent. This could take 5 minutes or it could take 20 depending on the size and depth of your pan.
Once they are soft and translucent turn down the heat slightly. You want to hear sizzling but if the onions are sticking to the bottom a lot then you need less heat.
The onions will start to caramelise, and again, this could take 20 minutes or it could take over an hour depending on how much heat you have and the size of your pan.
The garlic should be done by now, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
When the onion have coloured to your liking you can add the remaining ingredients. (Gently squeeze out the cooked garlic straight into the pot).
Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until you reach the ‘gel point‘.
**To test whether your jam has set put a plate in the freezer for a minimum of 10 minutes. Turn the heat off on the stove and place a small amount (like, half a teaspoon) of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Grab the plate out of the freezer and have a look, your jam is set if it has set like a gel with no liquid pooling around it. More info here**
Fill hot, sterilised jars with the jam immediately, seal and then allow to cool on the bench overnight.
Store in the fridge for up to a month.
Serve with cheese and bikkies, on pizza, on burgers… wherever you see fit.