August 8, 2010 by Stef
Hi! Remember me? You don’t? Sigh. I have only myself to blame.
Let’s get re-acquainted, shall we? I’m Skwishface. Not really, but it’ll do for internet purposes. Wife of one, mother of two, keeper of entirely too many pets. Cook a lot, snark a lot, avoid posting on my blog a lot (lately). But let’s not dwell on the unpleasant past. Instead, let us look to the future.
The bright, shining future. Full of jam.
Oh yes, jam. Bright jars of homemade jewel-colored deliciousness. It’s an intimidating prospect, right up until you realize how ridiculously easy it is. There are about a bajillion steps, though, so get comfy. This is gonna be a long one.
Pineapple-Jalapeno Jam (cost: about $6, yields: 10 8oz. jars)
5 cups crushed fresh pineapple, and juices
1 large jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine (or two small)
1 49g package of fruit pectin
7 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
Firstly, we must prepare the jars. The jam will be hot once it’s cooked, and you can’t put hot jam into cold jars, lest you get cracked and shattered jars. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.
Sterlize your jars and lids by running them through a cycle in the dishwasher with no soap. Or hand-washing them. Or baking them in the oven at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes. Up to you. The world of jar sterilization is your oyster.
Once that’s done, find the biggest, deepest pot you’ve got, carefully drop in the jars, and fill it up with water.
Set that pot on the stove to simmer. It’ll keep your jars nice and warm. You should also put the lids and bands for the jars in another, smaller pot to simmer. Don’t take a picture of this, though.
A word on jars. I’ve been using Kerr 8-oz quilted jars, and I digs ’em. You can order them online, or you can poke around in your local Wal-Mart or any grocery store, and they’ll be hidden away somewhere. Whatever kind you get, be sure to make a note of the mouth size. Sounds vaguely dirty, but it’s an important detail – the size of the opening at the top of the jar dictates the size of the lid. Since lids are only good for one use, but jars can be used over and over til kingdom come, you’ll likely have to buy new lids at some point. These jars are “regular mouth”. Tee hee!
Moving on! Allow me to introduce you to the star of the show.
Pineapples are delicious. Juicy. Bright. And kind of a pain to chop up.
Start by lopping of your pineapple’s feet and spikey hair. Giggle because this makes you feel like a medieval produce torturer.
Then stand it up on end and cut it into fourths.
Then take each fourth, and slice out the center core. It is tough and chewy and unpleasant to eat. I know people like that. *rimshot!*
And then take each fourth in your chubby pink fingers and slice off the armor plating.
Trim away all the annoying little round spikey brown bits that remain, and soon you’ll have four lovely planks of pineapple.
Truth be told, my pineapples were a bit on the small side, so it took about a pineapple and a half for this recipe.
Hack up the planks into chunks, and toss them in your friendly neighborhood food processor.
Then whir it around till you get the consistency you want. I went with semi-chunky.
Set the pineapple aside to think about what it’s done, and move on to the jalapeno.
Where my pineapples were small, my pepper was not. So I only used one in this batch of jam. You can use more if you like. Follow your heart.
The key here is to chop up your pepper fine, so that the chunks of spicy are about the same size as the chunks of fruity. It would be awesome to leave the pineapple in big chunks and have whole rings of jalapeno floating around in there. Hmm .. next time!
And now, jalapeno cutting montage!
Then dump the pineapple chunks, juices and all, into your other biggest pot along with the jalapeno. Gaze upon the happy bright deliciousness.
Now, how does a pot full of fruity mush turn into firm, gelatinous jam? What kitchen magic can we work to bring about this amazing transformation? At what price do we obtain this miracle?
Before putting the pot full of fruit in the stove, dump in one packet of fruit pectin. This weird, white powdery stuff is basically the starchy business that gives fruits their firmness and texture. The more ripe a fruit is, the more its natural pectin has broken down, and therefore the more mushy it is. Pectin is the thickening agent that turns fruit juice into fruit gel.
See how it sounds like I’m all smart and knowledgeable? Mostly I just read the box.
In case your train of thought got derailed by that little tangent (mine did. had to scroll up), here’s the next steps.
Adding in the sugar will more than double the volume of your mixture. So be sure to use a nice, big pot. I can only imagine that discovering your pot is too small at this stage would lead to tears.
Now we get to heat this up to boiling. Violent, bubbling, roiling kind of boiling. That’s pretty damn hot. And because it’s full of sugar, this stuff is both hot AND sticky. So if you get any on your skin, it’ll just sit there and buuuuurrrn. Not that I’m speaking from experience.
One fun side effect of this bubbling pot of chemistry is the foam.
As it cooks, your jam will develop a layer of foam on top. This is obnoxious, because you can’t put foamy jam in a jar. Bubbles will eventually pop and contents will settle, leaving you with half-empty jars.
One way to minimize this is, and I’m not even kidding …
If you want to keep your jam strictly dairy-free, simply omit the butter and resign yourself to scraping a lot of foam later.
So! Cook your jam at a crazy, violent, alarming boil for about a solid minute and a half. Then cut the heat and walk away for a bit. Get distracted by your children, who have been tempting both fate and your patience for the past half-hour. Don’t come back to your jam for about 15 minutes. Realize that this is awesome, because it made the foam solidify enough to be scraped easily right off the top.
Once you have a big pot of foam-free jam, it’s time to fill your jars. Carefully extract one piping-hot jar, lid, and band from the simmering water. There are special tools that you can buy for this. Jar lifters and nifty wands with magnets on the end for pulling out the lids. While I’m sure I would delight in such devices, I’ve found that my plain old rubber-tipped tongs work just fine.
Shake the excess water off your jar pieces, pop the funnel in the top, and scoop in your jam. I like to stir the goop for a bit, just to make sure I’m getting an equal amount of chunks and gel.
You want to stop about half an inch from the top lip of the jar. Hardcore canners call this “headspace”. I do, too, because I can’t think of a better word, but I mutter it under my breath while pretending to cough. It just sounds so burnt-out-hippie to me.
That done, be sure to run a clean, damp paper towel around the top of the jar. Clean threads make for a solid seal when you get to the canning part.
Next you place the lid right on top …
… and then you twist on the band.
Again, hardcore canners have their own word to describe how tightly to twist the band on. They call it “finger tight”. I can’t say this without giggling. My inner twelve-year-old is mighty.
Basically, just twist it on until it just tightens. Do not try to tighten it all the way! That can wait.
Now just repeat the jar-filling process about nine more times until you have your own little battalion of happy yellow jars.
Jars are filled, we’re done! Right?
Wrong! If we want these jars to last for any length of time outside of a refrigerator, we needs must can them. There are lots of methods for canning, but many of them require equipment that I just don’t have. For these lovely highly-acidic beauties, a hot water bath will do the trick. Luckily, I have all the tools I need.
Once again, there are specialized canning tools that you can buy. Big ol’ pots with nifty baskets for the cans that fit right in. But I’m cheap. And my kitchen is tiny. So I just use the big pot that I simmered my jars in, crank it up to boiling, and load my jars into the $5 plastic canning basket I splurged on.
Boil the heck outta those jars for about 10-15 minutes. Then haul them out and load the next jars in. Repeat until all of your jars are heckless by boiling.
Once they’re all out, set them aside and let them ponder their existence. You’ll be treated to a lovely chorus of popping sounds as the jar lids seal into place. After about an hour or so, go back and test each jar lid’s seal by pressing down on the center.
If there’s any bounce or give to the lid, the seal didn’t set. Just pop that jar in the fridge and eat it first. The rest of them can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for up to a year. Just be sure to twist the bands all the way tight first.
What to do with the finished product? Well, so far I’ve found it’s delicious when spread on a chicken quesadilla. And when it’s mixed with cream cheese, you could spread it on the dog and it’d still be yummy. Also, you can occasionally put it on your windowsill and admire its beauty.
This jam is sweet, tangy, slightly spicy, with a sneaky hint of jalapeno flavor that gives the whole thing an almost savory edge.
It’s safe to say I’m in love. Hope you enjoy it, too!