Are you busy? These days, I am far busier than I would like to be, which is one reason I like this photo of caramel apple jam holding down my datebook. (I still use paper for that!) I had set the jar there so I wouldn’t forget to bring it to a friend in the morning, and the early light sneaked up on it. It looked so much more serene than I felt, and it reminded me that most things can be simplified, you know? One jar. One book. Light.
I learned some things about this recipe that might help you keep it simple, if you decide to make it. (And of course I think you should make it, because it’s wonderful — a real fall treat. As soon as Julia mentioned that it was her new favorite, I knew I’d be all over it. So thanks, Jules!) The original recipe can be found in Linda Ziedrich’s book, The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Linda’s books are an essential part of any preserver’s kitchen, and I’m grateful that she gave me the green light to post this version of her beautiful jam here. My spin includes dark rum, vanilla bean, and a dash of sea salt.
Made-ahead sauce. You need 5 cups of applesauce to make a batch of this jam. It’s low-stress to sauce a bunch of apples (3 1/2 pounds per batch) ahead of time and stash the sauce in the fridge. Then, you can make the jam a day or two or three later; there’s no need for a marathon. Or, if you’ve already canned some unsweetened applesauce this fall, you can just pop the top and use that.
Not getting hurt. You’ll want to avoid the kind of splatter burns I got while making my first batches. I had never encountered such a violently explosive jam as this one was. There was a lot of hopping and hollering in the kitchen, and even two layers of splatter guards over the pot didn’t keep me from taking it in the eye several times. It was kind of awful, until Linda sorted me out: What you need to do is keep the heat on medium, at a steady but easy boil, stirring gently and almost constantly. It also helps to use a bigger pot than you might think you need. I had the perfect experience cooking the mixture in a wide-bottomed, 11-quart maslin pan. My 5-quart pot with higher heat and less frequent stirring was downright dangerous. Don’t do that to yourself.
The finished jam is thick but easily spreadable, and I can taste the added elements — a little caramel, a hint of vanilla and rum. The salt is there but barely. I was worried it wouldn’t be that different from a flavored applesauce, but it’s not like that at all. It’s rich, jammy, and worth the scars. (Which you won’t get, anyway. I know you won’t.)
Caramel Apple Jam
5 cups unsweetened applesauce (start with 3 1/2 pounds apples)
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons dark rum
1. If you don’t have applesauce on hand, make your sauce. Start by coring and slicing the apples (don’t peel ‘em) and cooking them over low heat until they’re soft. I usually add about 1/2 cup of water to the pot so they don’t stick or burn. Cover the pot while the apples are cooking; they should be ready in about 20 minutes. Put the cooked apples through a food mill (use the medium screen if you have a choice) and, voilà, sauce!
2. Prepare your jars and lids.
3. In a clean, dry jam pan (at least 7-quart size, if possible) combine 2 cups of the sugar, the water, and the lemon juice. Pour the sugar into the pan evenly, rather than as a big lump to one side or something like that, because you don’t get to stir or shake the pan for the next step, which is caramelizing the sugar.
4. Without disturbing the contents of the pan, bring the syrup to a boil and let it boil gently — adjusting the heat as needed — until it turns golden brown. Watch the mixture carefully and take it off the heat before it turns darker than you’d like. (I was totally intimidated by this step before I tried it, but it was no sweat. Really. Just take the caramelized sugar off the heat when it looks tawny and pretty.)
5. While the sugar is caramelizing, measure the additional 1 1/2 cups sugar and the sea salt into a small bowl. Then, split your vanilla bean lengthwise and, using your thumbnail, scrape the seeds from the bean into the sugar and salt. Combine well, then toss the pod into the sugar, too. Set the bowl aside.
6. When the caramel is ready, add the applesauce and the rest of the sugar, vanilla bean and all. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir the mixture until the sugar and caramel completely dissolve. Then bring the jam to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes. This is the part where you need to monitor the temperature — reducing it if necessary — and stir the jam steadily enough to keep it from attacking you. You will know the jam is done when it thickens up and your stirring spoon very briefly leaves a clear track at the bottom of the pan.
7. Remove the jam from the heat, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the rum. Ladle or pour the hot jam into your sterilized jars. Wipe the rims clean and add the lids. Process 10 minutes in a hot water-bath canner.
Makes 5-6 half-pint jars