It’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 habañero 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 habañero (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.
- 2 lbs strawberries, rinsed & hulled
- 1 and 1/2 cups (12 oz) raw sugar (organic turbinado)
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 5 stems fresh mint, divided
- 1 stem fresh basil
- 1 medium orange habañero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced (fresh or frozen)
- pinch of sea salt
- 1/2 cup apple pectin stock
- 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 habañero pepper; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir to fully dissolve sugar, then transfer to a heat-safe bowl, cover, and macerate overnight.
- 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.
- Prepare canner, jars & lids.
- 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 1/2 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 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields 3 cups.
- Habañero 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 substsitute a jalapeno 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.
- 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 1/2 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.
Canned, in a cool dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.