Strawberry Jam with Mint, Basil & Habanero

straw-hab-jam2It’s cruel to do this to you, I know, since strawberries are long gone in most parts of America. But I still have some fresh, local strawberries in the fridge (albeit they are starting to look a little peaky), and they are just coming into full season for our friends in the North. If you are one of the lucky ones that still has fresh strawberries in your neighborhood, or one of the industrious ones who put-up a few pounds in the freezer, have I got a jam for you.

I’ve had a few people comment to me lately on the strangeness of a sweet recipe with savory elements: jam with chiles, sweet scones with fresh green herbs, fruit crumble with black pepper. I agree that it can seem jarring at times (pun completely intentional), but, just like savory dishes that incorporate a sweet element, like marmalade-glazed pork or roasted turkey topped with plum preserves, jams and desserts that add a touch of savory offer up a world of possibility. While there is certainly joy to be had in a straight-up fruit preserve, bursting with strawberry flavor, a jam like this one? With fruit-forward strawberry balanced by peppery mint, an undertone of sweet basil, and the surprising kick of habanero on the finish? It’s a show stopper.

I love to watch people taste a jam like this: it’s like watching someone drink a fine wine for the first time, or watching a child with her first field strawberry. The initial impression is a berry blast of flavor, which is lovely, but not unexpected: it looks like strawberry jam and it tastes like strawberry jam. Then comes a look of contemplation: what are these other flavors I’m getting? Mint, yes, but something else: something greener, grassier, earthier. And then, the eyes pop wide open at the pow! finish of the habanero (and then they quickly reach for another taste). I could watch that all day.

So even if you think it’s a little weird, I encourage you to play around with sweet/savory combinations this summer. Make a micro-batch if you’re not sure: if it turns out to be an unmitigated disaster, you’re only out a bit of fruit and a bit of time. You may just find that one of those ‘weird’ combinations makes the best jam you’ve ever had.

Strawberry Jam with Mint, Basil & Habanero

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs strawberries, rinsed & hulled
  • 1  and ½ cups (12 oz) raw sugar (organic turbinado)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 5 stems fresh mint, divided
  • 1 stem fresh basil
  • 1 medium orange habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced (fresh or frozen)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • ½ cup apple pectin stock

METHODS

  1. Day 1. Add the sugar and vinegar to a wide-bottomed preserving pan. Toss the strawberries in the sugar as you hull them, to keep them from browning and to start maceration. Add 4 stems of mint, the basil and habanero pepper; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir to fully dissolve sugar, then transfer to a heat-safe bowl, cover, and macerate overnight.
  2. Day 2. Transfer berries to a wide-bottomed preserving pan. Taste syrup and make any adjustments to flavors (if it tastes too spicy, try adding a tablespoon or two of honey. If it needs more mint or basil, add another stem, heat to a simmer, then turn off heat and allow to steep for about an hour). Pluck the leaves off of the remaining stem of mint, using only the freshest, greenest leaves; plan to add one or two to each jar of jam.
  3. Prepare canner, jars & lids.
  4. Remove basil & mint stems from berry mixture. Add apple pectin. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring minimally, until mixture is syrupy, bubbling thickly and spits when you scrape a spoon across the bottom (220 degrees F). If desired, lightly mash berries with a potato masher (for a thicker jam). Boil at 220 degrees F for 1 minute, skim foam (or stir in ½ tablespoon of butter or olive oil to reduce foaming), and ladle into clean, hot jars, to which you’ve added one or two mint leaves, to ¼-inch head space. Wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields 3 cups.

OPTIONS

  1. Habanero gives this jam a nice, fiery bite, but it’s all on the finish (which is a lovely surprise, I find). It doesn’t taste spicy, just flavorful, and then you get a kick! I love how this turned out, but if you like less heat, you could substitute a jalapeño or other milder chile pepper. You could also substitute dried chile peppers, although if so, I would macerate for a couple of days, as I find it takes longer to draw the flavor out of dried chiles.
  2. A note on the set: out of the fridge, this way quite firm, almost, but not quite, like a jelly. A few minutes of photography on an 87-degree afternoon and you can see that the set “relaxed” to a softer, preserve-like consistency. I think this jam was close to setting without adding the apple pectin: another ½ cup of sugar might have done it, but I liked the sweetness of the jam as it was. If you’d rather not use added pectin, try increasing the sugar and/or acid a bit, or add an extra day of maceration. Any of those will probably help to achieve a good set.

STORE

Canned, in a cool dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.

SEASON

Early summer.

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15 comments

  1. Kat

    You just had to do it, didn’t you! Strawberries have been gone for so long here, but….I do have just enough frozen. Do I sacrifice my mid-November strawberry smoothies in order to have this brilliant jam? The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to do so. You know exactly what you’ve done–you’ve transformed me into a sweet/savory jam beast, and all with that one blueberry jam. I can’t thank you enough (or maybe curse you? thank you WHILE cursing you? ah, I’ll go with thanking). Since the strawberries are frozen, I may wait a while to make this jam–our habaneros aren’t quite in full swing at the market. But I’ll let you know once I make it!

  2. Curse me, thank me… just don’t call me late for berry season. :)

    I’m with you though: the sweet-savory combo is where it’s at. This jam is pretty spectacular: I’m not sure it’s *quite* as awesome as the blueberry-chile, but it’s definitely up there. Giving up strawberry smoothies in November though.. that’s a tough call. I had a couple of pounds of strawbs still in the fridge that were destined for the freezer, but I keep eating them… so it’s looking like I’m going to be strawberry-less until next June. Good thing I have lots of jam!

  3. sheree

    I am dying to try this! as soon as I get my rhubarb ginger jam out of the way I am going to make this! I am loving your jam recipes. I honestly am a very simple gal and I would never, in a gazillion years, thought to make the combos you make but they are absolutely divine!

  4. This is a real beauty, Kaela. And we will have good strawberries here until November — almost criminal, isn’t it? — so I have lots of time to think about what else I’d like to do with them. I adore minty things and am really intrigued by the idea of including some heat along with. Nice, nice, nice. Love the current banner image, too.

  5. Hello, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your site. My husband and I love hot jellies and jams. I made hot peach jam several years ago. This sounds wonderful with the addition of the herbs. Believe it or not, some evenings when we are not very hungry (3course lunch) we toast some crusty five seed bread and spread it with peanut butter and hot pepper jelly while is still warm.

    • Hi Karen, and thanks! I’m a big fan of the bread-cheese-and-jam dinner and I find jams with just a touch of a savory element work nicely with a lot of different cheeses. And, really: I’ve never met a spice I didn’t like! :)

  6. I was really surprised when I made a strawberry jam with mint how nice it was! There was black pepper in it too, and I thought it was amazing. And, glad that Shae pointed it out: the coneflower shot is just lovely!

  7. Oh, Jules, I forgot to mention above that your strawberry-mint-pepper jam was an inspiration of sorts. I had some mint, and remembered that you had used it with success, but I couldn’t make the SAME jam now could I? Hence mint & basil. And habs, well… I’ll throw chile in anything, obvs.

    And thanks, Jules & Shae: I do like how the new banner came out. That flower is from my CSA bunch, and is in an old, well-loved vase that was my Mom’s when I was a kid (apparently a housewarming gift from a neighbor when we moved into a new home in 1969) and was always a favorite of mine. She gave it to me a few years ago and I like to keep a few blooms in it all summer long.

  8. Pingback: Sour Cherry Lime Rickey Jam « Snowflake Kitchen

  9. Making this right now, only with raspberries! My only question- you don’t mention dicing up the habanero or taking it out after maceration- does it cook apart? I assume you don’t want one giant habanero hunk in the final jam, right?

    • Hi Julia,

      I’m so sorry about that: I’m sure I must have minced it before macerating. I definitely did not take it out, and I don’t think it would fall completely apart on cooking. And no, one giant hunk would probably be too spicy even for me!

      If you are already macerating with it whole, just pluck it out and mince it before cooking the jam. I’ll update the recipe now – thanks for catching that.

      Kaela

      • Oh, great! So glad I could be helpful. What I ended up doing was splitting the difference- cutting the habanero into 4 pieces for maceration, and then fishing them out on Day 2. The jam still has a really nice bite- this might be a good alternative for folks who like less heat. Also, this works great with raspberries, and you don’t need the pectin! (Tip of the hat to Adrian/Helloyarn, who clued me in on the fact that raspberries have a higher pectin content than strawberries do, and who suggested raspberries in the first place!)

  10. The raspberry sounds fantastic – and thanks for letting us know that it works well without pectin. I’ve been getting a few black raspberries from wild canes in our yard, but can’t wait for them to show up in earnest at farmer’s markets. Hooray for summer berries!

  11. Pingback: Strawberry Preserving Round-up - WellPreserved.ca

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