A SPICY Solution For Your Bushels of Berries

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It’s officially strawberry season in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our farmers markets are full of fresh ruby-hued orbs and strawberry desserts adorn local restaurant dessert menus. This time of year my family can’t seem to eat enough berries to satisfy; trips to the strawberry farm are part of daily chatter.

There are plenty of U-Pick Farms available here in Western North Carolina. You can find listings here and here.

What to do with all these fresh strawberries?

You could make Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake, Mixed Berry Crostata, Strawberry Basil Italian Ice, Strawberry Cornmeal Shortcakes… or you could always make JAM!

Whenever I prepare something with clean simple flavors, like strawberry jam, I like to include a special ingredient to add a dose of intrigue! Chipotle peppers do the trick, in this case. The fiery depth of the Chipotle peppers balance the sugar and acidity of the strawberries, for a sweet and SPICY can’t-stop-eating-this effect. Strawberry Chipotle Jam is a wonderful addition to a cheese board, a brilliant topping for proteins, and sublime slathered on fresh warm bread.

Jam-making is an easy undertaking; although some consider it a painstaking science. The things you must consider are acidity (usually lemon juice), amount and sweetener, amount of liquid, and most importantly pectin.

Pectin is a natural fiber found in fruit. It is a wonderful thickening agent, but diminishes as the fruit ripens. Various fruits have considerably more pectin than others; apples ranking with the highest levels of pectin and berries with some of the lowest levels.

Preservers often argue over the addition of powdered pectin. Some believe that since berries have low levels of natural pectin, store-bought powder should be added for jam to reach the proper gel consistency. If you are a kitchen-nerd like me, you may have checked out some canning and preserve forums on this subject. It’s quite entertaining to read through the scrabble. Harsh and alarming terms such as “humbug” and “pish-posh” are colorfully added in these grannies’ ardent debate. I’ve summed up their points for you:

Pro Pectin: You can make preserves much quicker, because the preserves take very little time to gel. Since you cook the fruit for less time, it retains a fresher flavor and more of it’s natural health benefits. Adding powdered pectin is also thought to produce a larger quantity of preserve, because you aren’t boiling away the liquid through a long cooking process.

Anti Pectin: Fruit naturally produces pectin, so why add a man-made version? Why PAY for something you don’t need? Even fruits that don’t produce quite enough pectin on their own, can be thickened by adding other fruits that have more (like tart apples.) Also, fruit that hasn’t ripened can be added to the preserve, because it has a larger amount of natural pectin.

The verdict? I’ve made jam both ways–it’s a toss up. Generally I try to prepare ALL my dishes with as little processed ingredients as possible. But when making jam, I usually have a package of pectin on hand. That way, if it doesn’t gel properly, I have a back up plan.

This Strawberry Chipotle Jam recipe is made without pectin, but I added a handful of unripened berries to the mix for their thickening benefits.

COOK’S NOTES:

Test the jam’s gel by placing a small amount on a frozen surface.  If it gels up within a few moments, it’s ready. Otherwise allow it to simmer a little longer.

To alter the batch size, follow the general rule of: 1 cup mashed berries + 1 cup sugar + 1 Tb. lemon juice.

If adding pectin, remember it has a slight aftertaste, so read the package instructions and remember “less-is-more.”

I’ve used canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for convenience. If using dried peppers, reconstitute them in boiling water for 10 minutes, then mince.

For tips on proper canning techniques click here.

To Prepare:

In a saucepan, combine the lemon zest, juice, sugar and salt over medium heat. Stir the mixture occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.

Add all the berries and minced chipotle peppers to the pan. Bring to a low boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Click HERE for the Recipe!

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