Month ten Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and for October the ingredient chosen by Kaela at Local Kitchen is chili peppers and all things capsicum. I admit, when the October ingredient was revealed, I wasn’t a gal who could tell a jalepeno from a habanero, but another month, another brilliant opportunity to explore and find out what chillis are all about and to recognise what’s hot and what’s not. As luck will have it, I didn’t have to go very far from home to do my research as growing chillis and peppers seems to be a very popular thing these days, so several friends right on my doorstep have provided the raw materials. With a greenhouse or polytunnel at your disposal, capsicums are a seemingly easy crop to cultivate. You can also grow chillis as potted plants on a windowsill.
As is always the way each month, I read every recipe I could find for inspiration. With its orangy-red transparency flecked through with tiny pieces of red pepper, chilli jam holds a dazzling attraction for me, but as Morgy, next door, had given me a big bowl full of black grapes, from the vine that scrambles over the front of his rustic shed abode, I decided to use them to form the main carrying jelly for my hotter ingredients. If you haven’t got a supply of fresh grapes you could extract the juice from apples instead or I imagine that bought grape juice would work too.
The other main ingredients came for free as well; sweet red peppers plus a purple one from my friend Shelley’s greenhouse, cayenne chilli peppers grown in the Taurus market garden. Cayenne peppers are only moderately hot, you could tell this as some little creature had been eating them in the greenhouse, chewing away at the stem end and leaving the pointy ends intact. I guess this to be a mouse called Miguel, wearing a sombrero and playing maracas. It goes to show that one end of the chilli is hotter than the other and that mice round here are made of stern stuff.
So, after extracting the black juice from the grapes this jam was starting to take a different course from the norm. I remember ‘experiencing’ a sculpture once at Tate Modern by Anish Kapoor. It wasn’t a particularly amazing looking piece, just a box painted black and slightly taller than a person. As you stepped up to a line drawn on the floor and looked within, it suddenly felt as if you were about to fall into a void or abyss and the feeling was so strong and unexpected that it made you recoil and say ‘whoah’ out loud. Anyway, that’s what this chilli jam is like, a sticky homage to that Anish Kapoor work, a jam so black when you peer into its dense glossy richness you have to hang on in case you fall through into an alternative jammy universe.
It’s not so hot it blows your socks off, but you can add more heat if you know that’s what you want. I’ve been eating it on bread with cream cheese and it’s really good. I knew immediately that it would be ideal for adding to meat stock to make a fruity gravy with a chilli kick. This is a strange instinctive feeling to have as a non meat eater of many years standing, so I have given jars away to a couple of carnivore friends to try. I’ve already had a request for 6 more jars
BLACK GRAPE CHILLI JAM
Makes approx 6 250g (1/4 pint) jars
2Kg (4.4 lbs) black grapes, whole with stems removed
350ml (1 1/2 cups) white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon (50ml / 1/4 cup)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
300g (0.6 lbs) (approx 5) sweet red peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
100g (0.2 lbs) (approx 5) cayenne chilli peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
1Kg ( 2.2 lbs) sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp of dried chilli flakes
Place the grapes in a pan and heat gently till the juice begins to flow. Once there is plenty of juice surrounding the fruit simmer for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan and squashing the fruit with the back of the spoon. Pour the grapes into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl and collect the juice that drips through, leaving it to drip overnight. The next day measure the juice collected. (You can also put the pulp that remains in the jelly bag through a food mill and use the de-seeded grape flesh you collect to add to another preserve.) I collected 700ml (3 cups) of juice but if your amount is different to this adjust the other ingredients accordingly.
Prepare the water bath, jars and seals ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here. Put the peppers, chillis and garlic clove in a food processor with half of the vinegar and blitz it thoroughly to a smooth sauce consistency. Pour into a preserving pan along with the grape juice, lemon juice, salt, remaining vinegar and chilli flakes. (Another way to adjust the heat would be to include some of the fresh seeds from the chilli peppers instead of using dried flakes.) Bring to a simmer and cook through for 10 minutes then remove from the heat to cool slightly.
Add the sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then up the heat and bring to a rolling boil until it reaches setting point and a small dollop on a cold plate quickly forms a skin when you push your finger over the surface (it took me about 20 minutes). Turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes, then stir to distribute the chilli peppers evenly through the jam. Pour into hot sterilised jars, seal and process for 10 minutes. Remove from the water bath and leave till completely cold before testing the seals and labelling.
As this is a jam with good acidity and sugar levels, it should keep well without processing so long as you follow the usual guidelines regarding care taken sterilising jars. If you do can it you are making doubly certain that your jam will be preserved safely for a year or even longer.
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