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The Saga of the Bacon Jam
It all began innocently enough. I would make Bacon Jam to take to Bouchercon 2011. A jar would go into my silent auction contribution, and a few other jars would go to friends. The jam would be delivered in cute jelly jars.
To add to the fun, I ordered special, custom-cured bacon from a local charcuterie, The Ethical Butcher. The only real hitch was the timing. The fancy-pants bacon was to be delivered on September 9, which means I’d need to make the jam over the weekend so I could can, package, and ship it ahead to St. Louis on Monday. No problem, right? Tight, but plenty doable.
Except the magic bacon was delayed, which I learned two days before the planned Bacon Jam production. Le sigh. Fortunately, there are other sources of high-quality bacon. I went to Gartner’s Country Meat Market on Saturday morning, the 10th, and acquired five pounds of their delicious sugar-cured bacon. But then I ran into problem number two: record high temperatures forecast for the weekend.
I decided to get up early Sunday and make the jam before the heat. I figured I could be done with canning by early afternoon, then relax on the couch with a beer and the football game.
But then I encountered problem number three: I was making a lot more jam than usual. Typically, I work from a pound of bacon, which produces about a cup of jam. This time, I wanted plenty, not only to take to Bouchercon, but also to have for home and to give to family. What I learned on this particular Sunday is even though one pound of bacon can be turned into jam in about 2-1/2 hours, it would be more like 6-1/2 hours to transform five pounds of bacon. It was almost 1:00pm before I was ready to start canning. By then, the outdoor temperature was 92°F, and the temp in the kitchen was at 95°F. Oy!
(Complicating things in a delightful way was my desire to bake an apple pie for my daughter and son-in-law’s first wedding anniversary. At their wedding last September 11, they celebrated with pies rather than cake, and I had the privilege of making the pie they cut together at the reception. So it only made sense that I would make them another pie for their first anniversary. But the endeavor added to the heat generated in the kitchen. Oh well. The pie came out beautifully and they loved it, so it was well worth it!)
The Bacon Jam itself came out beautifully. The complication came in the canning process. Because it’s a meat product (though with added acid from the cider vinegar), it was necessary to pressure can the jam. No problem, except remember that heat thing? Yeah. But on the plus side, my wife helped prep the jars and troubleshoot the problem of losing the jar rack for the canner. The two of us soldiered on through the heat. We were able to can six half-pint jars at a time, so the plan was for two batches.
Alas, we suffered a containment failure on the first batch. This was sad, because we lost not only six half-pints worth of jam but also we faced with a third round of canning in a kitchen which approached 100°F by late afternoon. (Of course, we didn’t have to spend the entire time in the kitchen. Once the pressure was up, we could escape to the relative cool of the living room—slightly under 90°F—except for occasionaly dashes into the kitchen for pressure checks.) Each batch from fill to removal from the canner was about 3-1/2 hours (takes a long time for a canner to cool and depressurize in that kind of heat) so it made for a long afternoon and evening.
Best as I could tell, the containment failure was due to pressure fluctuation in the first batch. Batch Two was successful (finished about 8pm) and Batch Three came out at 11:30pm. By then, we’d gotten the kitchen temp down to the high 80s.
And this morning, I am pleased to report twelve half-pints are cooling on the rack. One of those jars will be opened this morning for a taste test, and the rest will head to St. Louis, assuming the tasting is a success.
And now, without further nattering, here’s a blow-by-blow of the Bacon Jam creation.
My recipe is a variation of several found online. For this batch the ingredients were as follows (divide by 5 for a more manageable recipe, rounding measurements up to the next quarter cup as appropriate).
- 5 lbs bacon
- 5 large onion sliced thin
- 15 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup strong coffee
- 1 cup bourbon
- 1 cups apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup raspberry vinegar
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ground coriander
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
Once it’s done, take it off the heat and let it rest. Everything will be soft and salty-sweet. With one pound of bacon, the rest time will be about ten minutes to allow the liqud to thicken a bit. For five pounds, it was more like 20 minutes, but that was no problem, because the next step is …
At this point, you can eat it. It will keep about a month in the fridge, or six months in the freezer. We eat it on crackers, crostinis, or on a fried egg sandwich (on toast or English muffin as you prefer.) Delicious.
But, of course, I wanted to transport the jam without benefit of refrigeration. That meant canning.
You’ve already heard my Tale of Woe about the heat and Batch One Containment Failure, so I now I will skip right to …