- Illustration by Christopher Williams
As an avowed jelly junky, I know there are as many jewel-toned jars of sweetness as there are tweens at a Justin Bieber concert. There are plenty of imaginative spreads for the carb of your choosing and even more that nobody in their right mind should ever spread on anything. It can be both confusing and intimidating.
But fear not. There's actually one versatile local jam that makes the best peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich ever. It comes from a farm in Reidsville called Fogwood. It's grape, but Welch's never sold a grape like this. They call it Balsamic Grape Hull Jam. It contains the eponymous balsamic and grape hulls as well as cinnamon, clove, salt and pepper, and Fogwood-grown ginger. It's sold in the produce section of local Lowes Foods and at the Bulldega Urban Market.
This alchemical concoction is sweet but not crazy sweet. It's spicy but not Scoville spicy. It's more Carmen Miranda spicy. With a stellar supporting cast, it takes a humble PB&J right out of the lunchbox and into the realm of lunchtime legend. Goober Grape on Wonder Bread, when eaten by a responsible adult, seems less charmingly childlike than drunk-frat-bro, but everyone needs a good PB&J sometimes. This elevated version is the answer.
So, we have our jam. Next is really good bread, not just a vehicle to transport filling to mouth. We need a rustic loaf, hearty and handmade by a master baker like La Farm's Lionel Vatinet. His seasonal buckwheat is perfect: chewy yet tender, spicy but slightly sweet.
Then comes the PB. Big Spoon Roasters, a Durham company that won a 2017 Southern Living Food Award, is a terrific choice. They produce tons of flavors with the finest ingredients, creativity, and a wicked Bull City sense of humor. You don't even need your spread to be solely of the peanut variety—dealer's choice. But the peanut-pecan is pretty darn dreamy. Just saying.
But Fogwood's Balsamic Grape Hull Jam is more versatile than that. If you feel like rolling up your sleeves, well, every holiday, I make a big ham for our family. It's the culinary centerpiece. I've made hundreds of them, which means I have some thoughts on preparing and flavoring what should be a bona fide porcine showstopper.
Chinese five-spice powder should be a legally mandated part of every ham glaze. The zippy seasoning is made of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. It's ubiquitous in Chinese cuisine but also pairs perfectly with the salty complexity of ham. The spices in the jam share many of the same notes. And that makes it the perfect sweet element in a glaze.
Holiday Ham with Fogwood Jam
Equipment: Roasting pan, kitchen towel, knife, tongs, pastry brush. Takes approximately 5-8 hours.
3 cups Fogwood Balsamic Grape Hull Jam, warmed then strained
2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 bay leaves
1 ¼ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
Pinch of salt
4 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
½ city ham, shank or butt end
For glaze, whisk together all ingredients except walnuts and ham. Simmer on low until it's reduced to a syrup. Cool, then refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 250.
Line roasting pan bottom with towel. Pat ham dry. Cut through skin and fat in diamond pattern. Place ham in pan, cut side down. Insert probe thermometer set to 120 into ham center, away from bone. Cover tightly with foil and bake until temperature is reached.
Remove from oven, discard foil. Turn oven to 325. Remove and discard skin and thicker pieces of fat.
Firmly brush on glaze. Let sit for 10-15 minutes to set. Press even layer of nuts over ham. Turn probe to 140 and return to oven.
At 140 degrees, remove from oven, and place on platter. Rest, lightly covered, for 30 minutes.
Serve hot or cold.
The jam also makes an easy dressing that works on almost any salad. Just throw a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon each of Dijon and Fogwood jam, salt and pepper, and a shallot into blender. While blending, slowly drizzle in three-quarters of a cup of olive oil. Check for seasoning and use immediately.
Even just a tablespoon or two stirred into food imparts a lightly sweet, complex depth of flavor. It superbly enhances dishes like chili, slow-cooked spaghetti sauce, gumbos, and even Brunswick stew.
Fogwood's Balsamic Grape Hull Jam is gloriously versatile. It's delicious by itself, but also works and plays well with others.