We smear them on toast, slather them on sandwiches, and mostly confine our selections to grape and strawberry. But jams, jellies, and other fruit spreads have evolved from kids' items into gourmet fare. And it's time to spread the word.
From Conserves to Preserves: A Spreadsheet of Terms
What's the difference between jams and preserves, and what exactly is marmalade? They're all fruit spreads, but with substantial differences in sweetness and texture. Some popular varieties:
Jelly is a clear, intensely sweet fruit spread made by cooking fruit juice with pectin, a jelling agent. The pectin makes the jelly firm, so the texture is less spreadable than preserves. Most jellies are clear and don't contain pieces of fruit, but some, like pepper jelly, may contain small bits. Spread it: top crackers and goat cheese with pepper jelly; whisk quince jelly with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a dash of cayenne pepper for a sweet and spicy vinaigrette.
Jam is made by cooking fruit, sugar, and sometimes lemon juice into a thick mixture. Some jams are thickened with pectin. Spread it: mix jam (try fig and ginger) with fresh basil and garlic, and use as a glaze for broiled salmon.
Fruit spread is like jam, but it's sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar. Spread it: mix apricot fruit spread with tamari, minced Serrano pepper, garlic, and onion, and use as a marinade for shrimp before grilling; combine sour cherry fruit spread with Neufchatel cheese and serve with water biscuits.
Preserves are made of whole fruit or large pieces of fruit that have been cooked in a sugar syrup, sometimes with pectin. Spread it: warm apricot preserves with sauterne until bubbly, flavor with additional spices, and serve over vanilla or peach ice cream.
Fruit Butter is made from chopped fruit that's stewed with sugar and spices, and then pureed to make a buttery spread. Spread it: slather apple butter on stone-ground bread, then top with arugula, caramelized onions, and brie.
Marmalade is a fruit preserve made from the flesh and bitter peel of citrus fruits; oranges are traditional, but limes, lemons, and grapefruits are also popular. Spread it: mix orange and malt whiskey marmalade with Mascarpone cheese, and spread on warm corn bread.
Chutney is a robustly spiced spread made of chopped fruit, sugar, vinegar, and spices that have been cooked down into a savory-sweet concoction. They may be mild or hot. Spread it: top grilled turkey burgers with mango chutney, and serve on ciabatta rolls layered with sliced avocado and cilantro.
Conserve is usually made with a combination of fruits stewed with sugar, and may contain nuts and dried fruit as well. It's most closely related to chutney, but doesn't contain vinegar. Spread it: brush ginger conserves on halved peaches, grill until soft, and serve with additional ginger conservers and ginger or vanilla ice cream.
Fruit curd is made by cooking fruit-usually lemon-with sugar and eggs to make a smooth spread with a rich, creamy texture and a pleasantly tart edge. Spread it: fill mini tart shells with lemon curd and top with fresh blueberries and a dollop of crème fraiche.