Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jams: Capturing Taste and Time

Jam offers an intense and complex taste experience that rivals the flavor of Jelly. Jellies contain less fruit than jams (also known as preserves) and are simply anemic in comparison. Well-made jams resemble fragrance absolutes in that they contain the concentrated essence of the fruit. Fruit is picked in season and slowly cooked in pots that fill the kitchen with rich and fragrant aromas. Canning (the final step in making jam) captures time in glass jars, their shapes varying from the functional to the ornate—just like perfume. From the hue of the fruit to the feel of the jar in-hand, jams invite the sense of sight and touch as a prelude to taste.

Oròfrutta Fig Jam
Oròfrutta Fig Jam perfectly melds the duality of flavor and texture present in green figs. The creamy quality present in the wall of the fruit holds up to the sweetness of the delicately seeded flesh. This thick Italian jam, which contains 50% fruit, is best appreciated on toast or mixed with plain yogurt. Oròfrutta Fig Jam is available in-store at the Amish Market in New York City, which has one of the best selections of international preserves in town. It can also be purchased online at Guerras Deli & Meats and is priced at $4.99.

Bittersweet Herb Farm Strawberry Sambuca Jam
Bittersweet Herb Farm Strawberry Sambuca Jam pairs the refreshing taste of aniseed liquor with the lush flavor of strawberry—a fruit synonymous with jam as its brief life once picked makes it ideal for preserving. Those not fond of Sambuca can take heart; the assertion of aniseed’s licorice-like quality is noticeably absent. Rather than emphasizing contrasts, Sambuca contributes a refreshing oak note which accentuates the taste of the strawberries with a subtle vanillic woodiness. The jam is available online from Bittersweet Herb Farm and sells for $8.00 a jar.

Chantaine Strawberry Jam
Chantaine Strawberry Jam is a strawberry jam lover’s Holy Grail. Chantaine is owned by St. Dalfour, French producers of all-fruit jams found in health food stores and supermarkets (their Royal Fig Preserve is second best to Oròfrutta’s Fig Jam). The intensity of this strawberry jam’s flavor is akin to great pâté de fruit, sans the granular sugar. There is a piece of fruit in nearly every spoonful, which is a far cry from high fructose corn syrup laden offerings of competitors. Don’t be fooled by Tiptree’s Little Scarlet Strawberry Conserves. At $12.99 there is no trace of the intense notes typical of smaller Fragraria virginiana strawberries used to make their English jam and the sugar overkill destroys any potential of pleasure. At $3.95 a jar, Chatelaine Strawberry Jam is easy on the pocketbook and a welcome revelation.

Red Jacket Orchards Apricot Jam (Seasonal)
Red Jacket Orchards Apricot Jam is a fruity floral surprise. Notes of citrus, freesia and musk accompany the taste of apricot and the resulting experience is transcendent. No surprise here as the Red Jacket Apricot is sought after by pastry chefs when it's in season. Named for the red blush that appears on its skin, the Red Jacket Apricot is rich, sweet and brimming with flavor; a sharp contrast when compared to the mealy, tasteless variety of apricots found at east coast supermarkets. Red Jacket Orchards sells fruits and preserves at select farmer’s markets in New York City and surrounding areas.

Bonne Maman Poires aux Eclats de Cacao (Pear and Chocolate Nibs)
Bonne Maman’s Creations Gourmand line is rarely seen stateside. The jams are packaged in milk-colored jars with signature gingham lids (green versus red for this line), each one begging to be collected. You are probably wondering, “Pear and chocolate in a jam?” Many varieties of dark chocolate have a fruity quality in the finish, so the combination of fresh pear and softened cocoa nibs works beautifully. For now, you’ll have to go to France to purchase the jam or have a friend bring some back for you. If you’re lucky, one or two flavors in the line will show up at your local supermarket at Christmas (“Fig and Cinnamon” appeared at east coast A&P markets last year). Other flavors include Strawberry, Pineapple Coconut, Morello (Cherry) with Kirsch and Lemon Ginger. When available locally, the item is priced at $6.50.


Photo of jam with flowers from Just Hungry.

On April 2, 2008 the FDA declared that high fructose corn syrup cannot be declared natural. This is a huge victory for jam connoisseurs who have had to endure the dilution of flavor in their favorite brands. It seems that the same arguments that are affecting the fragrance industry are even more prevalent in the food business. Nutraingredients published an interesting article on the new ruling. One wonders if the issue of nature-identical molecules will enter the fray. Nature identical molecules are man-made molecules that are present in food and recreated by scientists (vanillin, which is a dominant molecule in vanilla, is an example of this). Though they are identical to molecules found in nature, nature identical molecules are often sourced from unappetizing organic sources (in the case of vanillin, the sources are petrochemicals and wood pulp).