I have been lusting after jam – not sugary Smuckers but jam that offered rich intense flavors with the fruit’s essence shining through. My grandmother made such jams. She hoarded summer’s bounty in neatly labeled mason jars stacked in orderly rows in her pantry – like soldiers – golden orange marmalade next to spicy apple chutney next to sweet berry jams.
When it came time to choose one for our breakfast she softly fingered them, contemplating which flavor suited her mood that day. To me the choice didn’t really matter. Each one was wonderful and I impatiently waited for her to pop the lid so I could spread some on my toast.
That taste in the dead of winter - smooth and sweet, melting on my tongue - made up for the complicated and sweaty business of jam making in the heat of summer.
On those days, my grandmother and I hauled out huge copper kettles, gleaming glass jars and mysterious wire racks from the depths of the basement. We piled crates brimming with fruit on every possible counter space. As we peeled and pitted, enticing aromas surrounded us – the sweet flesh of the fruit and the tangy vinegar that tickled my nose.
Our foreheads glistened while we stirred pots bubbling away on the stove. The heat in the room fairly shimmered as the ingredients cooked and the water gurgled to a boil in the heavy kettles. After much stirring she made a test and watched intently as the jam coated the spoon. “It’s ready” she said and we ladled the jam into all those jars, When she cracked open a jar, inspected the set and tasted the flavor, my grandmother’s wide smile said she was satisfied with her results – as always.
As an adult I had never made preserves, feeling sure in my heart that I could never match up to my grandmother’s and more than a little intimidated by the process. But last summer, posts from home preservers flashed across my browser, luring me with photogenic images of exotic jams and the promise of simple preparations. One day, just about the time of my pepper harvest, a post about savory jams caught my eye.
Just three ingredients and less than an hour later, red pepper jam was simmering on my stove. The spicy bite was softened, but distinctly present. The flesh was wonderfully candied. The essence of pepper was powerfully concentrated in both aroma and taste but balanced with intense sweetness.
I sat the table and spread a bit on my toast. Although my grandmother was long gone, I could feel the generational torch being passed. I had measured up after all.
Red Pepper Jam
12 sweet red peppers (~4 pounds)
1 ¾ cup cider vinegar
2 ½ cups sugar
Remove seeds from peppers and chop in a food processor. Sprinkle with a little salt and let stand for one hour. This will quicken the cooking time. Squeeze out liquid.
Put the drained peppers, sugar and vinegar into a non-reactive pan large enough to hold the ingredients while boiling
Bring to a boil then turn down the heat so that the mixture is still bubbling gently but not at a high boil. Stir occasionally and cook until the mixture has a spreadable, jam-like consistency -- 30 to 60 minutes depending on degree of moisture in the peppers.
Let cool and spoon into jars. This will keep for weeks in the refrigerator or can be frozen. Or this can be canned in a boiling water bath following standard canning directions.
Note: A rich source of information and recipes for home preserving can be found in Marissa McLellan’s Food in Jars Blog and her new book, "Food in Jars, Preserving in Small Batches"
My peppers are an heirloom varietal brought by my family from Italy in the early 20th century. They are Bull's Horn sweet red peppers from Southern Italy. They actually are not ripe until they turn red. They have a thin flesh and sweet flavor. I have seeds to share if anyone wants some. Please help me preserve this wonderful varietal.
This is my contribution to edition #362 of Weekend Herb Blogging, an event started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, now organized by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once. The host this week for both the English and Italian editions of Weekend Herb Blogging will be the delightful Cinzia from Cindystar.