I rebuke most condiment sauces on the principle that they are slimy and cause plenty of foods that have an excellent natural moisture content (primarily vegetables) to become wet. They often stink, look artificially bright or gut-twistingly dank, and generally muck up a perfectly good meal.
So, naturally, I decided to make onion jam.
I had arrived at the conclusion that the use for the two large onions sitting on my counter was onion jam, a condiment I do not believe I had ever eaten and a type of cooking I had never attempted. I perused several recipes online and took notes at random: I needed thyme, red wine vinegar, a lime, brown sugar. One was a maple recipe, so I decided I would use the lemon maple pepper seasoning my mom had given me from the Mennonite grocer back home. Acquiring the ingredients took three grocery stores over two days. I managed to buy a single, solitary lime, but could only find half a litre of red wine vinegar.
I started by chopping onions. The cutting board that came with my flat is the size of a paperback book, so I quickly ran out of room and needed a game plan. I finally conceded that working from my memory of an amalgamation of six recipes that I had glanced over three days prior would not yield the most practical results. I searched “onion jam” again and opened the first link.
I did not need thyme. Or brown sugar. Or the lime.
I did need American measuring cups, a tool with which my Scottish flat is not equipped. I pulled up another tab to do conversions and got out my clunky kitchen scale. I could barely distinguish whether it was measuring 50 grams, let alone 62 (a half-cup). I abandoned the scale.
I poured olive oil into my pan. It could have been a quarter cup, it could have been a tablespoon. And the recipe called for vegetable oil, but it was all close enough, probably. I added the maybe-but-probably-not 62 grams of white sugar. The recipe told me to stir until the mixture was caramel-colored, but it remained stubbornly yellow. Doubting my earlier estimation, I splashed in more oil three or four times.
After much more time had passed than the directions had promised, it seemed ready. The recipe called for four cups of onions. I had two large onions, so I added however many cups result from two large onions. It also called for salt and pepper “to taste,” but this was a steaming pot of hot sugar and oil; I couldn’t very well taste it.
I wondered, not for the first time in this process, whether I should call someone who had experience cooking with sugar for guidance. Instead, I became concerned about the impending red wine vinegar ingredient. I dislike the flavor of both red wine and vinegar, and I would have omitted it altogether, but someone told me it might be important as a preservative. That person has never made jam either, but it sounded logical. To counter the bitter possibilities, I added a heaping tablespoon of sugar. I would do this twice more before adding the vinegar.
Once I reached the simmering stage, with all ingredients added, I began to rethink my sugar fix. Fearing it would be too sweet, I added more salt and pepper. As the mixture boiled down, I realized what was necessary to determine what flavors still needed balancing: I would have to directly and repeatedly taste a condiment.
Perhaps this whole process was an experiment in masochism.
I added more salt, and a lot more pepper. I did not add the lemon maple pepper, because I forgot it existed. I let the pot simmer for twice the time the recipe recommended, because it said to simmer “until mixture has a jam consistency.” In retrospect, I should have interpreted that as “a hot jam consistency.” A mixture that has a jam consistency when hot has a gelatinous consistency once cooled. The end product was somewhat like spreading chunky jello on a cracker.
My onion jam was thick and almost prohibitively sweet, but I’ve eaten it all, and I’m eager to try again the next time I find myself overrun with onions.
Don’t Try This At Home Onion Jam
with apologies to wendymarie37
- Heat more than a little bit, but not anywhere near a lot, of olive oil over medium heat.
- Add a half-cup-ish of sugar. Stir incessantly.
- Splash in additional olive oil as many times as necessary for you to realize that you should stir less. Mixture will then turn light brown.
- Stir in chopped onions. It does not matter how many. Sprinkle with whatever seems like an appropriate amount of salt and pepper.
- Continue stirring for fifteen minutes. Add heaping tablespoons of sugar whenever you doubt the integrity of the recipe.
- Pour in red wine vinegar and stir. Eyeball the amount somewhere between a quarter and half cup, aiming low.
- Simmer until the mixture has a jam consistency. Taste throughout and rebalance flavor with a little salt and a lot of pepper, because you don’t want salty jam.
- Jar, cool, and enjoy(?)
Gwyneth Findlay is a writer and editor working in publishing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a degree in writing and minors in French and gender studies. She also writes for the new Calvin alumni fiction blog, Presticogitation.