I have a thing for the combination of sweet and hot. For as much jamming as I do, you’d think I have a wicked sweet tooth. Not so. I don’t eat candy or drink soda. I don’t crave cookies or baked goods. I skip dessert. I don’t understand the concept of breakfast for dinner since I’d rather have leftover dinner for breakfast any day. So I think my attraction to adding heat to sweet comes from the urge to diminish the cloying impression of a sugary mix.
The idea of reducing the apparent presence of sugar, if not the amount itself, got me to including red currants in strawberry jam. There are two immediate benefits, not counting nutrition (red currants are especially high in anti-oxidants and Vitamin C). One is that the currants provide pectin and allow the strawberry jam to set without excessive cooking. The second is that they impart their own tartness and clarity to the jam. The clear liquid of currant juice is potent and it gels like a dream. But it’s still a sugary mix.
A couple of years ago, I made strawberry jam with Balsamic vinegar and added cracked black pepper. I liked the pepper but not the vinegar. So this year, I decided to add black pepper to one batch of strawberry-currant jam. Since my hot red pepper jam is such a hit, I decided to add chipotle powder to a second batch. (Actually I divided two separate batches in half and seasoned one half and left the other plain. This is a great way to experiment BTW.) I remember that Tigress of Can Jam fame once did that to a roaring success (literally), so I was confident this would work. And it did. I judged the amount to add by what the batch tasted like before canning, punching it up a bit since hot spices tend to dissipate as jam ages. This was a winner. I can’t wait to try it on my family in a taste test. Even I might like it for breakfast. Though more likely, it will end up with some runny cheese as a dinner appetizer or on a supper buffet.
Sweet Hot Strawberry-Currant Jam
¼ pint red currants, stemmed (1 cup)
½ cup water (or half the measure of the currants)
1+ quart strawberries, sliced (4 cups)
3 cups sugar (or ¾ of the measure of the berries)
½ tsp chipotle powder or freshly ground black pepper (amount to taste)
Place the currants and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and continue cooking until the currants burst. Turn off the stove and let them cool for a couple of hours to develop the pectin. Push them through a sieve to remove the seeds and set the liquid aside.
Meanwhile, combine the sliced strawberries with the sugar and let them macerate for several hours, or overnight, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. (If I am keeping this overnight, I added the currant liquid to the strawberries.)
Prepare the canning jars and lids.
Cook the strawberry and currant mixture over high heat until the gel point has been reached (221 degrees F but test on a cold plate). Add the pepper, and adjust to your preferred degree of hotness, knowing that the heat will dissipate somewhat if you’re storing the jam for some time.
Ladle into hot jars, wipe the rims, and cover with the lids and screw-on ring.
Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes once the water returns to a boil. After 10 minutes, remove the lid, turn off the heat and let sit for five minutes before removing to let sit undisturbed for a day.
Makes 3-4 half-pints, or eight 4-ounce jars.