Monday, August 8, 2011

Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

Basically ever since I moved into my latest home, and came into such a plethora of storage space in the form of a modern lean-to between my bathroom and the backyard, I knew that I wanted to get into canning. I imagined jars upon jars of pickled okra, chow chow, and of course jams and jellies, and jars and jars of them hanging out there, waiting for months where cravings didn't quite match up with the seasons. Being an absolute lover of the farmers market since I moved to New York, what better way to hold on to those beautiful fleeting tastes of spring, summer and fall than to preserve? It's a second step in my main objective which I hope to one day fulfill in life, of near complete self-sufficiency, which is a larger topic I'll elaborate on in a later post someday.
So here it is... finally. My first official, all by myself canning experience. How did it go? It was good and bad. The good was that I made an absolutely delicious strawberry jalapeno jam, sweet but also oh so spicy as a perfect accompaniment to cheese, meats like pork, or even over buttered toast. It tastes like Texas, like home, in one small spoonful. The bad was that this was my first time actually wielding the instruments, boiling the water, watching the mixture turn to jam with only my own judgement to make the call when it was done.  My jam yielded 3- 1/2 pint jars and then my inexperience messed up 2 irreparably in the water process. So I was left with one. One tiny little half pint of deliciousness... and whatever was left in the pot that was too little to process. You could bet that I was saving that too of course, especially after I had a taste. But so be it. This is my first try and I did it all by myself. To have even 1 jar makes me so happy and proud.

And why strawberry jalapeno? Well first because it's me, and I won't be satisfied having accomplished just some regular old strawberry, cherry, single fruit...aka boring... jam. I've been dreaming up cherry balsamic jelly, strawberry basil jam, preserves with gooseberries, currents, onions, tomatoes. And then, when my sister was in town a few weekends ago we went to my favorite wine bar and had a late night snack of goat cheese that came with a side of jalapeno jelly. It was perfection. The sweet and spicy mixing excellently with the creamy and slightly tart, and I wasn't able to get it out of my head. A few Google searches later and I had my heart set on the chile combined with strawberries so it wouldn't be so overwhelmingly spicy.

If you've never canned before and have absolutely no idea where to start- try to find a class to take. I took one at The Brooklyn Kitchen, but even with that it took me a while to gain the necessary confidence to embark on my own and still that didn't save me from messing up. If you can't take a class, a great book to get you started is this one, by the woman who actually taught my canning class. You'll also need a large pot for processing the jars- think lobster pot, a heavy bottomed pot for making the jam and a canning tool kit. Also if you are planning to process in boiling water and keep at room temperature... FOLLOW THE RECIPE. Predictably, this is very difficult for me, but necessary to ensure that there is the proper amount of acid present to maintain a healthy shelf life and no bacteria.

Strawberry Jalapeno Jam
4 c. crushed strawberries
1 c. minced jalapeno (seeded or not depending on desired level of heat)
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 1/2 c. white sugar
1 tsp. pectin- I used Pomona's Universal Pectin
1 tsp. calcium water- calcium packet included with the pectin

1. Put a plate in the freezer. Wash and sterilize jars and lids in boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Place crushed strawberries, jalapenos, lemon juice and calcium water in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to boil over high heat- stirring often to ensure it doesn't burn. Combine pectin with the sugar and once the fruit mixture is boiling, add in.

2. Let mixture boil for 10 minutes, while stirring frequently. Once jam coats the back of a spoon, take plate out of freezer and put a few drops of jam on. If the jam runs cook for 5 more minutes. Continue until jam is fairly set when placed on the frozen plate (took me a few tries). Let sit for 5 minutes off the heat and if you want clear jam, then skim off the scummy stuff on top.

3. Pack the jam into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch space at the top. Clean all around the rim of the jar to remove any food particles and with the magnetic lid lifter (should come in the canning kit), carefully place the lids on and screw on the rings- but not too tight.

4. Place back in hot water on a canning rack. Make sure water is at least 1 inch above the jar tops and that jars are 2 inches apart. Bring to a boil and process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove from water with the jar lifter and place on tea towels, several inches apart. Remove the ring and allow to cool overnight. Press the top of the seal to ensure the seal is tight (may also hear a popping sound when jar is removed after processing). Store in a cool, dark area for up to 1 year.

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