Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Strawberries. With Chiles.

Strawberry jam has never really been one of my favorite things, though the strawberry itself is. I I feel that not much can improve the natural sweetness of early Summer berries, and adding a boatload of sugar to jam boosts that sweetness to a level that almost makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Nevertheless, I make strawberry jam every year.

My strawberry season is late this year. My 16 quarts of Amish grown and picked berries were delivered to me last weekend by my Parents, who came to celebrate the Kiddo's birthday. The berries were close to the final picking, and were smaller than the first pickings, but they were sweet and delicious and I was thankful for them.

In the past, my strawberry jam was always made with boxed pectin, but as a recent convert to pectin-free jams I may just find that my stigma against strawberry jam is over. Although the sugar is still high, the soft set of the jam is much more desirable to me - and deciding to add some chiles to the jam pot tempers the too-sweet phenomenon with a deep earthy undertone.

I've seen a number of strawberry-chile recipes around, and originally thought I'd make this one: Tigress's Strawberry Chipotle jam. I do love chipotle, but thought that making a batch may limit my consumption and gifting options. Chipotle is a strong chile flavor, and although I love it, I wanted a soft, what-is-that? flavor. Ever remembering Rick Bayless's words declaring the stately Guajillo chile the "workhorse", I dipped into my large bagful and chose two brick red specimens to include.

I based the recipe on Linda Zeidrich's Strawberry Orange Jam in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. I altered her method a little, since I combined all the ingredients and let them sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. I think 12 hours would have sufficed. I didn't mash the berries until I began to cook them down. Curious as I am, I lifted the lid on the pot several times when the berries were relaxing. I knew orange and guajillo worked well on pork, and figured they could only improve berries too - but the seductiveness of strawberry-guajillo jam was too interesting for words. Spoons dipped in, I followed the mellowing process to discover the chiles adding the mildest bit of heat, but the strongest undertone of warmth. Indeed, the finished jam coated the back of my throat in coziness, a nice departure from the tongue-stinging bite I usually demand from chile. This is one recipe that I'll be making for a long time I think.

Strawberry Guajillo Jam with Orange (adapted from Linda Zeidrich)
my yield was 6 half pints
  • 3 lbs. strawberries, hulled
  • 1 medium sized orange
  • 2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed (use the seeds as well)
  • 4 1/2 c. sugar
Remove the zest of the orange with a peeler, and slice into thin shreds. Squeeze out the orange juice and add to the berries in a non-reactive preserving pot. Chop the guajillo chiles into small pieces and add to the pot. Add sugar, stir carefully to combine, and let the pot sit covered at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or longer if you have to.

When ready to make the jam, heat the pot over medium heat and stir gently to fully dissolve the sugar. Raise the heat, continue cooking until the jam boils, mashing with a masher to break up the fruit as desired and skimming off the foam, until a drop of jam mounds slightly in a dish. (I had a number of dishes in the freezer to use as testers, but didn't use them at all. You can really feel when the consistency of the jam changes as you stir.)

Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, add lids and rings, and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

(I have not made my own pectin, which I plan on trying. This can be done with high-pectin fruit such as green apple or gooseberry. My jams boiled away for quite a while before reaching the jam point, the added pectin would reduce that. But like I've said before, if I'm rich in anything, it's time...)

after sitting overnight.

the finished jam. softly set, perfectly gorgeous.

I actually bought the Linda Ziedrich book I mentioned above for my Mom this past Mother's Day. I had rented and read it from the library, and figured that she and I both would enjoy the use of it in our own shared library. She brought it down when she came, and I hungrily reread the opening "Preserver's Primer" where Linda gives an overview of the history of preserving and the tables of pectin and acid contents of fruits. Then, I happily skipped to the recipes on strawberries, figuring to choose 2. Thinking of shrunken heads and whole fruit preserves, I made the extremely high sugar strawberry preserve recipe. I didn't add anything to her recipe, though next time I may like a little diversity. The berries did turn out well, very sweet, and I think this will be a case where I use the preserve in something else that tames the sweetness rather than to slather it heavily on jam.


I had just a little 2 oz. jar leftover that I could taste when fully cool, and it was still super sweet. the berries were a great texture, however.

Now 10 jars of jam are resting on the shelf, but my favorite strawberry preservation method is just to hull, wash, dry and pack the whole berries into quart jars and then freeze them. Of my more than 16 lbs of berries, 5 1/2 were made into jam, a pound or two disappeared in fresh eating, and the rest are frozen in the deep freeze. I can usually finagle a few frozen berries out with a butter knife for smoothies, or better, I defrost a whole quart. When the berries are still half frozen, I cut them in half or quarters, and sprinkle them with just a bit of sugar. Then, they taste like their true strawberry selves, even if not able to be spread thickly upon bread. (Though if the bread has cream cheese on it first, it will work in a pinch!)

It seems I can never appropriately judge the volume of a container; I can't tell you how much extra dish washing I have done because of this. I suspect I've lost a week of my time to poor judgement, but I find it kind of funny. Frequently I can be overheard talking to myself - congratulating myself on my great spacial handicap, but fortunately the errors in my judgement usually only pertain to volume.

When I add chiles to sweets or savories, it always proves to be good judgement, and makes up for any disheartening times I've had meanwhile. I'm imagining even now that a spoonful of strawberry-guajillo jam stirred into hot chocolate may be transcendent, though I will wait until Fall for that. Meanwhile, I'll wonder if there is anything that the Guajillo can't do. I'm not sure I love any other chile more.


  1. Absolutely beautiful. That shot of the jam on the spoon is stunning! I love Linda Z.'s book so much. I love it for it's simplicity and, at the same time, its depth.

  2. Thanks Julia! And I agree about Linda Z. no frills and no photography, and I wouldn't want it any other way!


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