One of the few things we can rationalize making in our 85+ degree apartment kitchens this time of year is stove top jam. And not simply as no oven time is required, or because we're still raking in the summer stone fruit and need some Blenheim inspiration. But because the recipes in Brooklyn-based jam maker Laena McCarthy's Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit all sound pretty great.
Sure, we've plowed through more than enough jam cookbooks in recent years. And we could do without the occasional cutesy recipe titles like Thai Me Up Jam (nectarine-ginger-Kaffir lime), "tart attack shrub" (a rhubarb-lime syrup) and "3's Company triple-berry jam."
Minor issues when you're flipping past these wildly creative flavors, particularly those spirits-laced jams like a blueberry jam with Fernet-Branca, Carpano Antica and ginger, a raspberry-rye whiskey jam, even a spiced apple beer jelly (!) spiced with cardamom and Grains of Paradise. If you're tired of those plain old strawberry and looking to move into more creative rhubarb-hibiscus flower jams, this book is for you.
There are plenty of booze-free recipes, too, including a watermelon-lemongrass jelly, white peach-Ceylon tea jam, and a green tomato-smoked paprika chutney packed with chili peppers, currants and sweet vermouth. Yeah, it's not terribly surprising that McCarthy's jam business is called Anarchy in a Jar.
All the more curious, on our first flip-through at least, that there is a chapter on sugar-free jam and fruit -- not exactly a hot topic in renegade jam circles, we imagine. But McCarthy uses the literal interpretation of "sugar free" (our favorite definition as well). So while stevia makes a brief appearance in a raspberry-Labrusco wine jam, most are still sweetened with a generous 1 to 2 cups of honey, including a blackberry-lavender jam with sage honey, ginger-pear jam sweetened with New Zealand manuka honey, and a tomato jam with ginger, cinnamon and cumin.
Jam anarchists will also be happy to find a handy chapter on pickled fruit, syrups and shrubs (vinegar cocktail syrups of old that double as soda syrups). But the one we keep flipping back to is the final chapter, titled "Pairings." As McCarthy explains, "So ... What do I eat this with?" is a common customer question due to the "unconventional ingredients and unique flavors" in her line of jams.
And so McCarthy includes recipes for ginger scones to use as a jam slathering base, homemade ricotta cheese for sweet crostini appetizers, jelly doughnuts, panna cotta with an apricot jam-Muscat sauce, a brunch risotto made with coconut milk and blueberry preserves -- even some weeknight roast chicken-Meyer lemon marmalade and pork tenderloin-fig jam inspiration. Even those who aren't really into the jamming side of the kitchen equation can tuck the "Pairings" recipes away to make use of generous gifts from marmalade-obsessed friends (hint, hint).
The easiest of these recipes is a jam-laced grilled cheese -- more of a recipe reminder than a new inspiration, actually, as it's a super easy classic recipe. McCarthy makes hers with a homemade chipotle and cinnamon-spiked pear jam, but whatever spicy jam or jelly you've got in your pantry, including that vintage jar of your grandmother's hot pepper jelly, would work well. No oven required.
Hot Fire Fireman's Grilled Cheese
From: Jam On by Laena McCarthy
Note: You'll need the book for McCarthy's spicy pear jam recipe, but you can substitute your favorite spicy jam or jelly. Per McCarthy: "I like to serve mine with a ramekin of hot sauce on the side to dip the sandwich into." She also recommends her spiced beer jelly as an alternative.
Makes: 4 servings
8 slices crusty sourdough bread
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
½ cup (4 ounces) Hot Fireman's Pear Jam
6 ounces fontina cheese
1. Preheat a grill pan or panini press. Arrange the bread slices on a work surface and brush 1 side of each slice with the olive oil or melted butter. Turn the oiled sides of the bread face down. Spread the jam on 4 sides of the bread. Top with the fontina cheese and close the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread.
2. Grill the sandwiches over moderate heat, turning once, until the bread is lightly toasted and the cheese is melted, 5 to 6 minutes.
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3. Transfer the sandwiches to a cutting board, halve, and serve immediately.
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