Today’s Strawbanero Poblano Jam is a winner. It was the clear favorite among six varieties of jam my Aunt Bel and I put up this summer. “Strawbanero” stands for strawberry and habanero — just one firey habanero and two mellow[er] poblanos give the jam a good wallop of heat without setting your mouth on fire, and the strawberry and pepper flavors make for a sublime combination. I want this jam on toast in the morning, as a glaze for roasted chicken thighs, and as an accompaniment to grilled lamb or pork. It is perfect spread on top of crackers with cream cheese, and spooned onto plain yogurt for an afternoon snack. It is my favorite jam I’ve made to date, and I have made a lot of ’em. I suggest you stir up a batch toute de suite.
In past jamming posts, I’ve talked about how I learned canning from my Aunt Belinda and Great Aunt Mim, told you where to find the cutest jars, and explained how to prep your kitchen for a day of jamming. I’ve extolled the virtues of pectin-free jams, made only with fruit and organic cane sugar. I’ve even featured another blogger’s gorgeously luxe recipe for fig jam, featuring port, rosemary, and lemon.
This year, I did a bit of a 180, deciding to add pectin to my preserves. This method requires far less time stirring over a cauldron of boiling hot, sugary liquid, making for a process that is both faster and safer. Pectin-added jams also yield much more volume — the soluble fiber acts to thicken the jam before it’s boiled down much at all. To give you an idea of just how much more jam you get when you make pectin-added recipes, Aunty Bel and I ended up with two more jars this year than last, and we used twelve pounds of fruit instead of sixteen.
One of the perils of using pectin is that it’s harder to control just how thick your jam turns out. Different fruits contain different amounts of pectin, with less ripe fruits tending to have more thickening power than ripe ones. When you make pectin-free jams, it’s easy to gauge how they’re setting up during the long cooking process, but with a pectin-added jam, it’s more like baking — all of the ingredients are pre-measured at the beginning of the recipe, and the rest is up to the fates. There’s no wiggle room, no opportunity to adjust as you go.
And so, a few of our batches of jam turned out a little thicker than I’d like. Nothing totally tragic or inedible, but just a touch stiffer than my personal preference dictates. The Strawbanero Jam happened to be our last batch, and the slightly scant amount of pectin I had left turned out to be just right for a perfect set. These preserves are just solid enough for spreading, with an appealing, slightly-pourable consistency.
Oh, and a word or two on using habaneros, one of the hottest chili peppers known to man. You need not be afraid of chopping up these bad boys as long as you take a few precautions. For one thing, do yourself a favor and put on some food preparation gloves before you handle a habanero — if you neglect to do this you may or may not have firey, burning fingers for the rest of the day. And if you touch your face or, heaven forbid, your eyes, well jeez. Forget about it.
Once you’ve got those gloves on, it’s time to deseed and mince the habanero. Using a very sharp paring knife, split the pepper lengthwise, then cut off the stem ends, including the pithy seed pod, and cut out the white veins inside each half of the pepper. Discard all of these bits directly to your compost bin — they are the hottest parts of the pepper, but the deseeded flesh is still plenty spicy! Next, cut the pepper halves into thin strips (1/16 of an inch or so), line up the strips, and cut them into little squares. Use the paring knife to transfer the minced pepper directly into the bowl with your other ingredients.
Finally, don’t delay in washing off the paring knife and cutting board, scrubbing with lots of hot, soapy water. Discard the gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly as well. And you’re done! Habanero minced. Crisis averted. Spicy jam ahead.
Strawbanero Poblano Jam (printer-friendly version)
makes about 7 half-pint jars
2 1/4 lbs. hulled and quartered strawberries
2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced
1/3 C. meyer lemon juice
5 Tbsp. (1.2 ounces) Ball Classic Pectin
4 C. organic cane sugar
1. Combine the strawberries, peppers, lemon juice, and pectin in a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, stirring to distribute the pectin evenly throughout the mixture.
2. Pour the strawberry mixture into a medium (5-quart), heavy-bottomed soup pot or dutch oven. Place over medium-high heat, and stir often for about 15 minutes, until the fruit comes to a full boil (one that persists even while you are stirring). Let boil for one minute.
3. Add the sugar to the pot and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come up to a hard boil again, and boil for one final minute, stirring frequently. Turn off heat.
4. While the jam is still boiling hot, ladle into hot, sterilized jam jars. Screw on the lids firmly but not too tightly. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
5. Remove the jars from the hot water bath, place on counter upside-down, and let cool to room temperature. Unscrew the bands and wash and dry the jars, then label and store in a cool, dark pantry.