Balsamic Onion Jam

This recipe was gifted to me by my Great Aunt Linda. During every Thanksgiving since I can remember, she’s cooked a giant vat of this jam. I’d eat heaping spoonfuls of it on everything as a kid: turkey, stuffing, potatoes. Then, during cleanup, I’d clandestinely put more than my family’s share of the jam in a Tupperware container, hoping that no one noticed. There’s nothing better than this on a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich.

During college, I lived too far away to come back for the short Thanksgiving weekend. I spent my Thanksgivings in a variety of places: with friends in Philadelphia and Cleveland, at my boyfriend’s house in western New York, and even in Manhattan, where my childhood best friend and I ate turkey at a fancy French restaurant at 10 pm. Every year, I missed my family’s Thanksgivings — but I knew that my loneliness it was the price I had to pay for the independent life I’d chosen. During my first few years away from home, I cried secretly in the bathroom, or my bedroom, on Thanksgiving day. Later on, though, I got used to that always difficult phone call to my family members, all sitting together, eating the same onion jam at the same table.

Once I moved to Boston, I started a tradition: Each year, I hosted Friendsgiving during the weekend before the actual holiday. Knowing that I’d likely not be cooking on the actual day of Thanksgiving, I put all my effort into that Friendsgiving. During the first year, I carried a 25-pound turkey home from the Trader Joe’s, walking almost a mile with the beastly thing cradled in my arms. I’d never made turkey before, but it came out of the oven golden brown and gloriously moist. During that same year, my roommates and I put too many sweet potato peelings down the drain, clogging it so badly that water started spraying from the wall. The maintenance man showed up, fixed the plug, then ate dinner with me, my roommates and 30 of our friends. Over the years, the parties became smaller and tamer, but I still had them. Every year, I made a turkey and a vat of onion jam.

I live in Seattle now so I’ll be here for Thanksgiving this year, which is odd. I’ll get to make this onion jam in my own kitchen. I’ll get to roast a turkey with my mom. All the dishes I grew up eating will be on the table. It will make me feel slightly weepy, because sometimes, there’s nothing better than coming home.

Balsamic Onion Jam

Makes about 2 cups of jam. Recipe inspired by Love and Olive Oil.
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 4 T butter
  • 4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 T chopped fresh rosemary
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of ground black pepper

This recipe is a labor of love — it takes a while, but it’s totally worth it. Put the olive oil in a saucepan (at least 4 inches deep), then bring to medium high heat. Add the onions and let them cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. It’ll look like a huge pile of onions, but they’ll cook down fast. After 5 minutes, add the butter and let cook for another 15 minutes. At this point, the onions should be soft, not crunchy. Lower the heat to medium, then add the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, rosemary, salt and pepper to the pan and let that mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. The onions should look dark brown and caramelized, holding together like a gooey fruit jam would, when you take them off the stove. Let them sit for 15 minutes, or so, then store in a Tupperware container or class jar for up to a week.

This week, I’m adding this onion jam to everything: Mediterranean chicken burgers, loaded grilled cheese sandwiches, and even the biscuits I’m eating for breakfast with a side of fried eggs. Enjoy!

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