breakfast, sauces + dressings, sweets

strawberry-black pepper jam

Fair warning: once you have made your very own jam, there will be no stopping you.  It just makes you feel so cool.  Plus,  the depth and layers of flavor you can achieve when you have control of your ingredients is kind of astounding.  The black pepper, of course, can be adjusted to your taste.  I like the contrasting bite to cut through the natural sweetness of the berries.  The balsamic adds just the right amount of acid to balance it all out.

I know that some people get very intimidated by the "canning" process.  I can tell you that it is dead easy and there is nothing to fear.  I prefer Rachel Saunders unfussy method for sterilizing the jars.  It's so ridiculously simple, you'll wonder why people would do it any other way.

I love this particular jam for it's versatility.  It's equally at home on a plate of fine cheeses as it is in a humble PB&J.  My boys vote for it melted and poured over ice cream (and get kind of pissed when I give any of the jars away)

strawberry-black pepper jam

adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

Makes about 6 8oz jars which equates to some very happy, lucky friends.

4 lbs hulled strawberries

2 lbs sugar

2 oz balsamic

4 oz lime juice

freshly ground black pepper

To sterilized your jars:

Heat your oven to 250°.  Make sure your jars are impeccably clean and line them up on a rimmed baking sheet.  Place them in the oven for 30 minutes.  Take them out when you are ready to fill.  If your jam starts to boil and bubble when you pour it into the jar, wait a few minutes for them to cool.  Fill them to within 1/4" of the top, wipe the rims clean and screw on (or place the rubber seal and clip on) the lids. Return the jars to the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove them from the oven, set them gently (don't touch, shake, jiggle) on a cooling rack (just a wire baking rack will do) and let them sit overnight at room temp to seal.  If you are unsure about any of them having properly sealed, just keep the jam refrigerated as you would once they were opened.

There are many methods and ways to process. Please chose the one you are most comfortable with.

To make the jam:

Place a few spoons in the freezer (for testing the jam later)

Place the berries and sugar  in a large, wide non-reactive pan over med-low heat with 1/2 of the lime and balsamic.  Stir the mixture constantly with a heat-proof rubber spatula.  Once the berries start to release their juices, raise the heat to high and continue to stir.  Start to add some black pepper.

Boil for about 30 minutes, occasionally scraping the bottom of the pan.  If the jam begins to stick, lower the heat a bit but make sure the mixture is still boiling.  After about 15 minutes, taste the jam and add more black pepper if you like.  Continue this process for another 15 minutes or so until the berries are soft and the jam is shiny and dark.

Remove from the heat and DO NOT STIR.  After a few minutes stir in the remaining lime and balsamic.  Return to cook over medium heat for about 5 more minutes.  The jam should be glossy and dark.   Remove from the heat once again and scoop away any white foam that has formed.  Test the jam for doneness by spooning a small amount of the jam onto one of the frozen spoons.  Return the spoon to the freezer for about 4 minutes.  Feel the the bottom of the spoon.  If is it still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute or so.  If it isn't, tilt the spoon to see how the jam runs.  If it is thick and gooey, it is done.  If not, cook it for a few more minutes and test again.  When it is done, skim off any remaining foam and pour the jam into jars, continuing with which ever method you chose to process them.

Phew.  I promise it's worth it.  You'll have plenty of incredible, delicious jam for you and friends for months.