Jam making in December? At first, it just doesn't seem right to me. I grew up making jam in the summer and late fall, with berries and fruits at the peak of their season grown on our farm or on one close by. A few years ago I branched out and began making orange marmalade in the winter, still seasonally appropriate, since the citrus is coming from someplace where it's actually at the peak of its season. And freezing fruit in August when its in season, to make jam in December makes perfect sense. But red peppers found in stores in the PNW in December are definitely not in season. While I was waiting for my daughter to set up a fun and festive winter break wisdom teeth extraction event, I read an article in O magazine in which Martha Beck instructs, "Grab a pen and make a list of every time you remember being utterly, happily absorbed in an activity, no matter how odd." Preserving is what I immediately thought of; few things make me happier than when I'm making pickles, jams, jellies or any other preserves. And so encouraged, I gave myself permission to buy out of season produce, such as red peppers in the dead of winter -and completely contrary to current food trends- to make jam in December, if I want.
And I did. Inspired by the Syrian red pepper spread my daughter makes, I decided I would make a similar flavored red pepper jam. I bought 4 red bell peppers and 2 Habanero peppers -grown somewhere far, far away where the sun is shining warm- brought them home and proceeded to make jam. Note the yellow gloves. Once you have had a BAD EXPERIENCE with pepper oils, you will never forget it and will always be cautious with future pepper encounters, and Habanero peppers are the granddaddy of pepper hotness.
Luckily, I have several bags of crabapple juice/homemade pectin in the freezer to use. It makes me happy to use up some of the things I've put in the freezer when I've been overly optimistic about what I might do in the winter months. Next year (if I have it together and am thinking ahead) I will buy peppers from Gypsy Rows, my nice farmer friends at the farmers market, and dice and freeze some for December jam making.
Red Pepper Jam
Adapted from The Joy of Jam, jellies and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich
4 large red bell peppers (2 1/2 lbs)
2 Habanero peppers
Mix with 2 T. salt and let stand 1-2 hours. Drain, rinse and drain again. Put in preserving pot with:
2 c. cider vinegar
1 c. homemade pectin (crabapple juice)
5 c. sugar
Cook until it jells, about 30-40 minutes.
Test for jelling by putting a small plate in the freezer when you begin cooking the jam. When you think it might be done (Laurie Colwin wrote correctly that when it's jam, it LOOKS like jam), put a spoon of jam on the cold plate, return it to the freezer for a few minutes and when it's cold, drag your finger through it to see if it's set.
When the jam seems mostly done, add 8 oz. pomegranate molasses and cook 5 minutes more. Put into half pint jars and seal. Linda recommends water bath processing for 10 minutes. This makes 7-8 half pint jars of jam -heavenly with cheese and crackers, or lamb meatballs. The unique flavor of the pomegrante molasses makes this incredibly special and it would be great as a condiment with all sorts of foods. It is amazing!
Almost as much fun as making jams and jellies is sharing them. When I met Girls in Sheep Clothing's Melissa for the very first time at the knitting guild's holiday gift exchange, she gave me a jar of her Blackberry Jam tasting of late summer, and I shared a jar of my Orange Marmalade -a most auspicious beginning for a friendship, I think. I gave a jar of this Red Pepper Jam to each of my husband's sisters when we met up with them on New Year's Eve, and Gretchen, The Soup Queen, gave us these four amazing jellies she'd made (top right, clockwise): Apple Cranberry Wine, Tangerine Lemon, Cranberry Hot Pepper, and Jalapeno Mint. Lucky us!