Recently I've been thinking about red peppers and jam. Though I wrote about them independently, I had also been thinking about how it would be nice to make a batch of red pepper jam. So, this past Sunday, when I had an unexpected reprieve from inpatient medicine (long story involving low-acuity admissions on our call night and good discharge planning by the interns, ultimately leading to a very short day for me at the hospital), I came home with visions of red peppers dancing in my head. First, I made lunch and read the Sunday New York Times. (Even though reports indicate that all the newspapers are dying, and even though I read the NYT online daily, I adore the smell of newsprint as I open up the pages made out of real paper each weekend. Plus, it's easier to see the photos in the Weddings section compared to the online interface.) Then, I got to work on the jam.
I started by cleaning the jam jars. Actually, let me back up: I started by accumulating a number of jam jars over the years, some purchased from the grocery store and some inherited from my mom via jam-that-has-been-consumed. All the jars have Ball lids. My mom swears that the Kerr lids, though the two companies are now owned by the same conglomerate, are inferior. The Ball lids can be used time after time after time (and mine have been!). Edited to add: After reading this blog post, my mom (an expert canner) wants me to add that she doesn't reuse lids, usually because they are bent from being pried off. The jars and lids can be cleaned in the dishwasher, or with plenty of warm soapy water.
Then, I started coarsely chopping the red bell peppers and serranos so they would be easier to puree. I made a double recipe, and I needed three rounds of blending in my two-quart Cuisinart (the peppers blend a little more easily if you add some of the vinegar to the Cuisinart bowl). Then I combined the pepper puree with the remaining ingredients (sugar and salt) and simmered on the stove for forty-five minutes, stirring infrequently. Jam made without pectin is a very no muss, no fuss process. You can stop here if you plan to consume the jam within the next week or so. However, if you've just made a double recipe, you probably want to save some for later.
The last step (and by far the most intimidating for the novice canner) is processing the jam so that it will keep. And I mean KEEP: for months or even years. I'm envisioning placing a few emergency jars in your earthquake-preparedness larder for a post-disaster gourmet treat. (Hmmm, B and I really should prepare our earthquake kit sometime. We have a cool flashlight that you can power by shaking intermittently, and a hand-crank radio, and water, but no food.) But getting back to the processing: this is not a scary procedure. I will walk you through it.
Once the jam has been made, the next step in ensuring its longevity is to ladle the hot jam into the cleaned jars, wiping any spillage around the edge with a clean cloth; then center the (Ball) lid on top, and tighten the screw-top. Afterwards, I place the jars in my biggest soup pot, which I have filled with enough boiling water to cover the jars, and leave them there, rattling away, for ten minutes. With tongs (preferably the special canning kind), remove the jars from the boiling water and place them on a heatproof surface and wait for the ping as the lid tightens (pressure-volume physics in action!). After a few minutes, check each lid by pressing in the center; if it doesn't spring back, you're ready for an earthquake. If it does, you can try re-processing the jam in the boiling water for ten minutes, but if that doesn't work, like I said above, you should eat the jam within a week or so.
But this whole jam-making process that I've described assumes that you want to make red pepper jam. To the un-indoctrinated, red pepper jam sounds unappetizing, a misnomer; jam is for strawberries and apricots and plums, for breakfast and scones and toast. To the indoctrinated, however, it is the perfect whip-up-at-the-last-minute appetizer. The sweetness of the bell peppers comes through with each bite, but the hot peppers provide a little kick that lingers. The jam is, in my opinion, best served with cream cheese and crackers, though I know R has tried it on toast and B loves it so much that he has tried it on everything from goat cheese (too tangy for this purpose, I think) to ravioli (too weird!). I have heard that M is working on making red pepper jellies for A&K's wedding favors, and they sound like a solid (or semi-solid) version of this jam.
Seeing some of the jam I made over the weekend in the picture below makes my heart swell with a sense of accomplishment. Jam is durable. Ready for an earthquake, a hasty hostess present, an afternoon snack. Enjoy!
Red Pepper Jam
Recipe from my maternal grandmother
Makes about 3 cups (20-24 oz.)
Time: 30 min active, 90 min total
4 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 jalapeno or serrano chiles, halved and seeded
2/3 c. white or cider vinegar
1 c. sugar
1 t. salt
Coarsely chop bell peppers. Puree bell peppers, chiles, and vinegar in a Cuisinart or blender. Place mixture in a 3 or 4-quart saucepan along with sugar and salt, and simmer for 45 minutes or until thickened to desirable consistency, stirring occasionally. Process jam for ten minutes.