Filled with tender chunks of apples in a brandy-and-vanilla-flavored jelly, this is an intensely flavored jam with a heavenly aroma. I’ve gone a little to the French style with brandy and much less sugar. It is definitely a more adult jam, but the alcohol rapidly cooks off, so don’t worry about letting the kids have some.
Choose the right apples for the recipe. For a nice texture and flavor balance, you want a mixture of softer, sweet apples and some hard, tart apples for this jam. I used a mix of very hard, bright-green ‘Grannies’, ‘Gala’ and ‘Fuji’.
If you don’t already have boiled cider in the freezer, it’s time to make some. See my how-to here.
Your jam pot should be wider, rather than tall, with at least 10-quart capacity. The perfect jam pot is a copper vessel. Don’t confuse this with the new Copper Chef non-sticks — not the same at all. The ones I refer to are expensive, over $200 at Amazon and at Williams Sonoma, but worth the money. Until you can afford one, seek out a graniteware or steel pot similar in shape.
Makes 11 or 12 half-pints
• 8 pounds of assorted apples
• 6 cups cane sugar
• ½ tsp sea salt
• 1 cup boiled cider
• 1 whole vanilla bean (see note below)
• 1 cup apple brandy, Calvados or plain brandy
That clever peeler-slicer-corer gadget doesn’t work for this. The slices are too thin and will cook to mush. Also, all apples are not perfectly round with a straight core. You’d still be trimming core. Just sit comfortably with good tools in hand, turn on some music and relax. It took me less than an hour to do all 8 pounds.
1. Peel and core the apples. I peel then cut the apples into eighths. Cut off the point side of the wedge to remove the core. Put the cores into a 3-quart pot. Now, dice the apples in pieces of ¼- to ½-inch. Don’t obsess over equal-sized dice — a little difference will add texture to your jam. Work quickly so they don’t brown too much. Drop the apples into your jam pot as you go.
2. Add the sugar, salt, and the boiled cider and stir to coat the apples with sugar. Let the mix rest for an hour or so to juice out the apples.
3. Meanwhile, add water to cover to the pot of cores. Boil these for about a half hour letting it cook down. Strain the remaining water through a fine sieve. You should have about 1 ½ cups. Add this resulting pectin solution to the jam pot and stir. If you taste the liquid now, you’ll find it to already have a wonderful strong apple flavor.
4. Slit open the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the jam. Drop the pod into the pot as well. Slowly bring the jam to a simmer and cook for a minute. Then turn off the heat, cover the jam, and let it rest overnight.
5. In the morning, the jam will be even juicier. Use a spider or slotted spoon and scoop out half the apples into a colander set over a bowl. Bring the jam back to a boil and cook, stirring frequently. At about 220 degrees Fahrenheit, add the apple pieces back in and continue to cook. Stir frequently now, making sure you stir all the way to the bottom and corners to make sure it doesn’t stick. Bring the jam temperature back up to about 223 degrees. This is a couple degrees above jelling point, but allows for the brandy at the end.
6. Meanwhile, fill your waterbath with hot water, bring to a boil and dip all your jars, lids and ladle and funnel. Set them all upside down on a towel next to the stove, next to your jam pot. When you are ready to fill the jars, set them right side up.
7. Add the apple brandy, stir well, and continue to simmer for a minute to cook off the alcohol. Remove the vanilla bean, rinse it off, and save it in either your homemade vanilla bottle or sugar jar.
8. Ladle the hot jam into your clean, hot jars and seal with a 2-piece lid. Process the jars in the boiling water bath for 7 minutes for half pints, 10 minutes for pints. Remove and place on a towel to cool. Leave a little space between the jars to let them cool quicker. Label with the name and year and store out of the light. You won’t have this jam long — it goes fast. Save a few jars for gifting.
About Vanilla Beans
I got a super buy on vanilla beans 2 years ago at Atlantic Spice: ¼ pound for less than $30. Thankfully, I’ve taken very good care of the beans, keeping them in a tightly corked narrow glass bottle about ½ full of brandy. That keeps them perfectly moist seemingly forever.
Never throw out a vanilla bean. Even after you’ve split a bean and scraped the seeds, it still has a lot to give. Replace it in the bottle of brandy (now excellent vanilla extract) or put it in a jar with cane sugar to make Vanilla Sugar. You can also briefly rinse the bean and let it dry on a paper towel for a few days. Then grind the bean in your spice grinder to a coarse powder and store in a tight spice jar. Ground vanilla gives an intriguing speckle to baked goods, ice cream or puddings.
I recently checked that price to see that the cost of vanilla has skyrocketed and looked to learn why. Sadly, the vanilla orchid farmers of Madagascar have not done well the past couple years and the demand for true vanilla has increased creating a shortage. I shopped a little and the best deal I found was, who else? Amazon. They offer both the Madagascar and Tahitian beans at excellent prices even in smaller amounts. You can also consider the vanilla bean paste. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a more successful season for these hardworking farmers.
For a more kid-friendly jam: Instead of the vanilla bean and brandy, mix 2 tablespoons of the very best cinnamon into the sugar. Mix it in thoroughly and then add to the cut apples. Omit the brandy.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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