Peach Habanero Basil Jam

I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by.  Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so.  Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs.  It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it.

On Monday, after dropping my oldest at day camp, my mother and I strapped the baby in his car seat and headed an hour south of home to the state farmers market in Forest Park, GA.  While it is called the “state farmers market”, it is really more of a giant produce market – with products hailing from as far away as California and Mexico.  However, there is a row of stalls dedicated to Georgia farmers, and the market produce stand features local and regional options as well.

We wandered the stalls, marveling at some of the more exotic options, but mostly keeping our eye out for peaches and plums.  We both have fond memories of my grandmother’s peach jam and plum jelly – put up every year from the fruit that grew on trees just outside the kitchen window at their home in rural Mississippi.  I can remember clearly standing in the shade of the peach tree, biting into the warm flesh of a perfectly ripe peach that I had just plucked from overhead.  And while I would love to tell you that we have our own miniature orchard in our backyard, that just isn’t the case.  Luckily we live in an area where peaches and plums are readily available this time of year.

Needless to say, we came away from our perusal with more than a few bits of fruit.  That is to say, 50 lbs. of peaches, 25 lbs. of plums and 24 lbs. of cherries.  Oh, and 24 lbs. of strawberries.

I know – it’s a little ridiculous.  But the prices were too good to pass up, and the prospect of freezing and preserving all of that lovely fruit for use throughout the winter was equally as enticing.

We got everything home and immediately set to work processing the ripest of the fruit.  The cherries we pitted and froze in gallon bags.  I’ll figure out what I want to do with them later.  The strawberries were so ripe, we chose to make jam out of most of them, and then freeze a couple of gallons.I also made a few sheets of fruit leather from the strawberries.  I’ll do an entire post on the processing of the strawberries, and the strange circumstances that led us to buy 24 lbs. of almost (but not quite) rotten strawberries later.

Today, I’m focusing on peaches.  50 lbs. of peaches is a lot, in case you were wondering.  We froze three gallons worth, and I managed to ruin at least 10 cups (and one stock pot) in my first attempt at jam – you really do need to keep an eye on things like fruit and sugar when you’re cooking them over high heat.  Scorched peaches and sugar are not the most pleasant scents with which to start your day.

The second and third attempts were much more successful, and I’m now the proud owner of nine pints of peach jam – three of which are spiced up a bit with the addition of some heat from habanero peppers and given a floral note from a few sprigs of purple basil.

Peach Habanero Basil Jam
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 2-3 hours
processing time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 cups peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 habanero peppers, stems removed and four slits cut into the sides (leave them whole)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 large sprigs of purple basil
  • 1 packet liquid fruit pectin

  1. Combine peaches, sugar, peppers and lemon juice in a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan.  Stir to mix, then let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the peaches to release some of their juices.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and allow to gently boil and reduce to a jam-like consistency.  This could take as many as 2-3 hours.  Do not rush it – that’s how I ruined the first batch.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. Once the mixture has reduced and thickened, stir in the basil and let it steep for a few minutes.
  4. While the basil is steeping, prepare your jars (I used a mixture of pint and half-pint jars) – sterilize jars and rings in simmering water.
  5. After the basil has steeped for a few minutes, add the pectin to the peach mixture and bring to a hard boil.  Allow to boil hard for five minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat, remove habanero peppers and basil sprigs from the mixture and discard; fill the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
  7. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20-25 minutes (20 for half-pint, 25 for pint).
  8. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter.
  9. Enjoy!

The resulting jam is decidedly peachy in flavor, with just the slightest heat.  The basil isn’t terribly prevalent, but it lends a nice back note to the whole thing.  I’ve eaten some on toast for the last two mornings at breakfast, and it is a great way to start the day.  I think it would also be a great glaze on a roasted chicken or a pork loin.

What kinds of things are you putting by this summer? Or is the prospect of spending hours on end in a hot kitchen just too much to bear?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Jerk Chicken

When I was in college, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a week in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  My mother was given the trip as a bonus for a big project she had led to completion at work, and she thoughtfully invited me to accompany her on the trip.  The package had us staying at a fairly bland resort, away from any of the real culture or flavor of the country, but we did manage to experience some Jamaican life while we were there.

The most distinct memory that I have from that trip is, of course, food related.  We had been on an excursion – maybe to the market, maybe to some tourist attraction, I can’t really remember – and on the way back we asked our taxi driver for a recommendation for lunch.  He began talking about good restaurants that he’d heard of in the resort area, but we insisted that he tell us where he would eat if it were up to him.

He pulled into a little road-side stand and told us that this was the best place to get the Jamaican specialty, Jerk.  If we wanted to eat here, though, he was going to take his lunch break and we’d have to wait for him to finish.  We conceded to his conditions and proceeded to enjoy some of the most flavorful, spicy, smoky chicken and pork we’d ever experienced.  Sitting in the noonday heat, perched on a wooden bench on the side of a busy road, eating meat off the bone with our fingers and drinking Red Stripe beer.  We felt right at home.

Needless to say, our taxi driver got a good tip from us that day.

Fast forward 18 years: When I asked my husband what he wanted to do for Father’s Day this year, he said all he really wanted was to watch a Gold Cup soccer game on television.  I told him I’d be happy to keep the kids out of the house for the 90 minutes (or so) of the game.  Out of curiosity, I asked who the US National team was playing.  Jamaica, he informed me.

And thus was born our menu for Father’s Day dinner. Despite my husbands protestations that I shouldn’t make a meal that represents the opposing team, I convinced him it would be okay (and it was – the US won 2-0).

Luckily I had a tried-and-true Jerk recipe that we’d discovered shortly after Mom and I returned from Jamaica ‘lo those many years ago.  It’s from a 1993 issue of Gourmet, and it very nearly replicates the flavors of that authentic Jerk we had on the roadside back in Montego Bay.

Jerk Chicken
prep time: 5 minutes
marinade time: 24 hours (at least)
cook time: 2 hours
serves: 8-10

  • 2 cups chopped scallion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons habanero chili paste or 2 habanero chilis, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 5 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 3 teaspoons English-style dry mustard
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons sucanat (some people recommend molasses)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 lbs. chicken (whole or parts)
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine the scallion, chili paste, soy sauce, lime juice, allspice, mustard, bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme and cinnamon.  It will become a dark, greenish paste.
  2. If using a whole chicken, remove the backbone and butterfly the chicken so that it lays flat.
  3. Smear the marinade all over the chicken (as you can see above, I did some chicken legs, and one whole chicken.  For the drumsticks, I reserved some of the marinade without the chili paste and used that for the kids – the flavor was still there, but the habanero heat was absent).
  4. Cover and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  5. Grill over indirect heat (around 250-275) for 2 hours, or until the joints of the chicken begin to separate and the juices run clear.  Keep an eye on it, since there is sugar in the marinade, and it will burn easily.

We served ours with some grilled asparagus and some creamy coleslaw, but you could certainly go more traditional with some black beans and rice or plantains. It was just as flavorful as I remember it being, and my husband loved it. The kids seemed to enjoy their heat-free version too, so definitely I recommend making the marinade without the chilies if you’ve got heat-sensitive people in your family.

So, the US plays Panama on Wednesday – what Panamanian dish should I make to ensure our victory?

Some Like it Hot: Fermented Chili Paste

Do you like things a little bit spicy?  I’m not sure when it happened for me, but for as long as I can remember I have liked spicy foods.  Loved them, actually – even as a child.  It was like a badge of honor if you could eat spicy foods without complaining.  And I could down some spicy foods.

I like a lot of horseradish in my cocktail sauce.  I want it to make my sinuses burn.

I like a lot of wasabi with my sushi.  I want my eyes to water and my nose to run.

I put hot sauce on a lot of things, and jalapenos are a common topping for just about anything.  When I was pregnant with both my boys I craved many different foods, but mostly it was anything that was spicy, spicy, spicy.  The spicier the better – heartburn be damned.

So when I saw this recipe for fermented chili sauceover at Nourished Kitchen I just knew I had to make it.  As much tobasco and sriracha as I go through, it seems like I should know how to make it myself.

Continue reading “Some Like it Hot: Fermented Chili Paste”