Monday, November 21, 2011

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Hot Damn, That’s My Jam

Hot pepper jellies and jams are household staples in huge swathes of the Southern and Southwestern United States. The ease with which these preserves are made accounts for some of their popularity, but the fact is that a whole lot of people find the piquant sweet-and-sour taste irresistible.

You can bet I'll be breaking some out this week for Thanksgiving.

Variations on the spicy agrodolce theme include thick raspberry and chipotle jam, jalapeno jam dyed green, quivering tequila-spiked jellies, peach preserves studded with habanero strips, and — inexplicably — jellies and jams no hotter than a bowl of celery sticks, but which their makers perversely refer to as “hot.” I’ve yet to sample an example made with the blistering ghost pepper, but it’s just a matter of time before some chilehead tempts death with infernal jelly on a cracker.

Of all these, my favorites are those that pack a noticeable capsaicin punch. In his 1987 cookbook, Southern Cooking, Craig Claiborne gives the recipe for an unfussy but suitably piquant jelly. He notes, rightly, that the peppers may be strained before the jelly sets in order to make clear jelly. Personally, I don’t see the point in that when most of this is going to be spread on top of soft white cheese for snacks. But, do as you will. Likewise, Claiborne calls for food coloring is an optional ingredient. I don’t find that my hot pepper jam needs it, but you do what your family likes.
Hot Pepper Jelly

1 cup cored and ground sweet red or green peppers, with the seeds
½ cup corn and ground long hot red or green peppers
6 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups white vinegar
¼ tsp salt, if desired
1 bottle (6 oz) fruit pectin
Red or green food coloring, optional

Combine the sweet peppers, hot peppers, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a saucepan. Simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Strain or not, as desired, and return mixture to the saucepan. If strained, the solids are good as a relish. Pour in the pectin and bring to the boil. Stir in the food coloring. Pour into sterilized half-pint jars and seal with paraffin. Store in a cool place.

YIELD: 8 TO 10 cups

Craig Claiborne (1987)
Southern Cooking
364 pages (hardback)
The New York Times Company
ISBN: 0812915992