I have learned to be judicious with jam.
When I first taught myself how to can, I spent a couple summers going jam-crazy. It was just so easy. All you need is a pile of fruit—it doesn’t even need to be good-looking fruit, just tasty—some sugar, jars, and an hour or two of an afternoon. That first summer I canned a jam or jelly every week, so that before I knew it I had a couple gallons put away, shades of red, blue, and purple lined up on the basement shelves like so many jewels.
My first jam was strawberry rhubarb (I am my mother’s daughter, after all), and as the season went on I graduated through all the berries and on into pear and apple butter in the fall. The next year was even worse. I had caught the preserving bug. Everything went into jars. Chutneys, pickles, fruit in syrup, fruit in alcohol, jams, jelly. In the intervening spring we had moved from a house into an apartment, with almost no storage space and a tiny square kitchen. I kept preserves in boxes behind the couch. I literally sweated over the preserving kettle, my jars and supplies taking up every inch of counter space.
It took me a few years to realize that I don’t eat very much jam or jelly, and that one can only consume so many pickles. Even with whole boxes of jars exiting the house in the form of holiday and birthday gifts, there were always leftovers, those imperfect recipes that were too tasty to throw out but not quite good enough to give away.
At first I kept preserving, knowing that I was creating a problem, but not willing to give it up. But as I became disillusioned with the unused jams and jellies, and with the pounds and pounds of sugar that had gone into them, it became not just a problem of space, but also of wastefulness and nutrition. My friends joked that we could subsist on my preserves in case of nuclear war—but I’m not sure how far we’d get just eating fruity sugar.
It was difficult to do, but I made myself stop making large batches of jam. It was a good decision; it forced me to get more creative about preserving the harvest, and to think critically about the kinds of things we actually eat and want to keep through the winter. And it becomes more exciting when I make small-batch recipes like this one, with just the perfect amount of jam to carry you through to the next berry.
There has, though, been at least one problematic consequence of not making so much jam. A couple years ago I started making salsa, and, well, you’d really think you could go through a few gallons of salsa more quickly than this….
For those wary of chilies, this jam doesn’t carry much of a kick; just a marvelously savory depth from the pepper and the cilantro. Use perfectly ripe strawberries for that summer-in-a-jar flavor.
This is a small enough recipe that you could double or triple it in a large pot without concerns about burning or overcooking the jam. Just be sure, as always, to bring it to a boil as quickly as possible. It is also suitable for water-bath canning.
Strawberry Serrano Jam with Cilantro
Inspired by Honest Fare’s Strawberry Serrano Pepper Preserves
2 lbs. strawberries, about 3 pints, washed and hulled
Juice of 1 lemon
1 C sugar
3 serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced
2 T chopped cilantro
Chop strawberries roughly and place in a saucepan. Add lemon juice and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, increase the heat to a simmer, and cook 15 minutes.
Add the peppers, stir well, and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Skim off any foam and ladle into jars.
Makes about 2 cups.