Musing about Preserves – (Caramelised) Onion Jam

My daughters school held a BBQ at a local market yesterday.  Unfortunately the weather was pretty damn hot (41C), and patronage at the market was down on its usual numbers.  As a result we had quite a few sliced onions left over.  Naturally (read foolishly) I decided to ignore climatic conditions and spend 3 hours stirring a pot over a hot stove making onion jam (albeit with glass of sparkling wine in hand).  While I was stirring my mind turned to what makes a good preserve, and in particular a good chutney or ‘savoury’ jam.

For me it is all about the right mix of sweet and sour coupled with a pleasing texture.  I have any number of jars of mediocre preserves sitting unopened in my cupboard because they fail on one or all of these points.  As a result I am on a personal mission to find the perfect preserve recipe (for my tastes) for every fruit or veg I could possibly get in large numbers.  This may take a while as I have only ticked off one -  I am very happy with my adaptation of the recipe for Bread & Butter Cucumbers  from Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion.  So that’s cucumbers sorted.  But what about other veg?

Yesterday was my 2nd attempt at making Onion Jam this season.  The first attempt, whilst enjoyable, wasn’t exactly what I was looking to create.  I used a CWA recipe for onion marmalade from a preserves book I was given for Christmas.  The recipe can also be found here.  Whilst I enjoyed it I found the flavour a little raw, despite cooking it for a good 3 hours.  This time though I decided to sauté the onions (and a little thyme) in a small amount of olive oil before adding the sugar and vinegar.   I think I’ve got a lot closer to what I was trying to achieve (although I think it could have benefitted from a little chilli – but then again what couldn’t?).  I should really have cooked mine for a little longer as it isn’t exactly set.  I reckon it will still taste delicious in a bacon sandwich though.  Here is my revised recipe:

Onion Jam (makes about 2 litres of jam)

Onion jam

  • 2kg sliced onions
  • 2kg sugar (I used a mix of white and dark sugar as that is what I had in the pantry)
  • 1 litre apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tblspns salt (this is a reduction on the 3 tbspns for half the quantity of onions specified in the original recipe – I’m not sure what impact this will have on its keeping qualities).
  • 1 tblspn olive oil
  • Leaves from about 10 sprigs on thyme

Saute the onions and thyme in the oil until they colour slightly (this will take quite a long time).  Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the jam reaches setting point – about 2.5 hours.  Seal in sterilised jars.   Note: This makes a very sweet onion jam.

In the original recipe it suggests that this will store “in a dark cupboard for a long time”, however I am not knowledgeable enough about preserves to know how reducing the salt and adding oil will affect its keeping qualities.  If you know I would love to hear from you.

I would also like to know about any perfect recipes you have for dealing with a particular crop.  A recipe you wouldn’t want to change, that you are pretty much 100% happy with, that doesn’t need tweeking and you happily eat every single jar of, every year that you make it.

My next post in this series will be peaches – I have been playing with the base recipe on The Witches Kitchen’s excellent post about mango chutney and in a week or two (when the chutney has matured a bit) I should know how successful I have been.

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9 Responses to Musing about Preserves – (Caramelised) Onion Jam

  1. Not something I have ever made. To be honest we don’t make jams ant more as we are trying not to eat as much sugar.

  2. Daphne says:

    One year I made a lot of pickled onions, but never a jam But my love for such things goes up and down, so I didn’t make any this year.

  3. Sarah says:

    Chilli jam is the one that never seems to last long in our house – I use a Sarah Raven recipe which turns out pretty well each time. Your onion jam sounds good too though… it could be just what I need to introduce a bit of variety in our savoury jam repertoire!

  4. Balvinder says:

    This looks fabulous – I’ve never had onion jam, but I think I’d love this.

  5. Bek says:

    I can’t help with an onion preserve recipe, sorry. But I share your love of pickles. My personal favourite is pickled cherries – delicious with pate!

  6. Hi Liz,

    Man I could go a bacon sandwich with that onion jam right now – it’s breakfast time in WA.

    Salt inhibits the growth and activity of spoilage bacteria in preserves, probably strains of yeast in this case some Baccilus cereus that are inherent in soil. However, onions themselves contain some isothionate compounds which are antibacterial. Therefore onion jam is really only going to spoil from surface yeasts (the furry type).
    You could add the full amount of salt to taste or reduce the sugar to offset the sweetness from the natural sugar in the onions, which turns to caramel through a chemical reaction to heat. Depending on the texture you require, you could chuck in a little powdered pectin.

    I am very hungry now.

  7. and the oil is in the recipe to draw out the flavours and antioxidant compounds form the onions. There may be an issue with lipid oxidation at the surface of the jar but if you seal it well and refrigerate once opened that shouldn’t be a problem. The amount in the recipe seems about right.

    • Liz says:

      Thankyou so much Susanna! I really appreciate your reply and now feel much better about the keeping properties of the preserve.

  8. Tricia says:

    This looks yummy! I will have to give this a try. Thanks for the recipe.

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