You may not realize by the array of recipes I share on this blog (Okay, maybe you can. I wrote about Roasted Chile Salsa Verde just last week, I use chipotle in everything from dips to candied nuts, and I even throw Hatch chiles in peach cobbler), but I’m a bit of a recovering chile-head. Chile-a-holic. Hot pepper extraordinaire. Frequent user of Tabasco, and one who can put away a seemingly endless amount of the red chile salsa on my salads when I order at Chipotle.
What can I say? I love heat.
Fellow lovers of chiles can appreciate the lure of the chile. A taste of that fire, and your senses jump to action. Your eyes light up, and an adrenaline-fueled surge of energy rushes through your body. Sure, that heat causes pain, but it’s a good hurt. One that keeps you coming back for more.
I’ve read that there’s a science behind it – that the pain caused by those spicy chiles causes a rush of endorphins. It’s no wonder those of us that love spicy foods find them so alluring. Maybe it’s an addiction of sorts. I could attest to that.
Earlier in our relationship, my husband and I would often order a mess of hot wings from a nearby restaurant. The hotter the sauce, the better (of course, he’s a bigger chile-head than I am, tolerating even more of that delicious pain than I could ever hope to), and we’d put away enough wings for a small army. Of course, we’d be miserable afterwards, but the sweet siren call of those wings would return soon enough, and we were back chowing down on wings again. When Chipotle first came to town, we met for lunch on a weekly basis. We couldn’t get enough of that salsa. I know firsthand how addictive heat can be.
But as we grew older, we tempered our love for spice. Part of it out of necessity (one’s body simply can’t handle that much heat all the time indefinitely!), but also, I started to truly fall in love with cooking. In that process, I learned to appreciate the subtleties of real, fresh whole foods. How a simple grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of salt is all you need on a perfectly grilled grass-fed steak. Raw red bell peppers at the peak of freshness are sweet like candy. Fresh basil just sings of summer. A perfectly ripe cantaloupe drips with a sensuous, musky aroma. Roasted free-range, organic chickens from a nearby farm taste, as Julia Child would put it, “so good and chickeny!” In short, I was discovering that there was a whole world of flavor out there, and I didn’t need to dive into the endorphin-saturated world of chiles to enjoy it.
This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good dose of spice every now and then though, as evidenced by the chile-laced recipes throughout this blog. Those chiles still hold a special place in this Texas girl’s heart. And when nature gives you peppers, why not embrace it? This time around, however, I had already put away quite a few jars of salsa in the freezer, yet too many chiles remained. Especially these habaneros. With these babies, a little goes a long way. I had at least a dozen, so I needed to come up with a way to “get rid of” quite a few. With some pears from my CSA share also lying around, suddenly I knew. Jam. I could make jam.
This jam is a perfect balance of sweet and heat, and it’s a touch healthier than traditional jams and jellies, since I used local honey instead of sugar. The pears provide enough natural pectin to thicken naturally (and add some additional sweetening). Make no mistake though – this jam packs a serious punch. At first, the flavor is a lovely sweet-hot, but after a moment on the tongue, the habaneros start to do their work. Warning: a few spoonfuls of this stuff may cause your nose to run just a bit, in one of those “Hurts So Good” kinda ways. Enjoy it on gluten-free toast, your favorite corn muffin, a biscuit, or as I did last week, brushed on some delicious chicken. I imagine it’d also be perfect as a glaze for pork.
Chile-heads, your new favorite jam has arrived.
About 3 lbs of pears, peeled and roughly chopped (leave the peel on one or two pears – this will add some pectin to make the jam thicken)
5 habanero chiles, seeded and roughly chopped (do this with gloves on)
2 c honey (use agave, coconut nectar, or coconut sugar for vegan)
1/4 c lemon juice
Wash 8 4-oz canning jars, rings, and new lids with soapy water and rinse. Fill a large pot or canner with water and place canning jars, rings, and lids into the water. Bring to simmer and leave until ready to use.
Meanwhile, place the pears and habanero chiles in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until no large chunks of pear remain (I like small bits of fruit, so I don’t completely puree mine). Scrape into a medium saucepan and add honey, lemon juice, and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring. Keep at a simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened to your liking, about 45 minutes.
When jam is ready, remove jars from water with tongs. (I use tongs from this canning kit, which also has a funnel and a magnetic tool to easily remove the lids from the water) Spoon jam into each jar, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace. (A canning funnel makes this easier) Wipe any jam that might have gotten on the rims of the jars. Then place the lid on top of each jar, and screw the rings on, only turning once. (You can tighten them completely later)
Place each filled jar back into the simmering water in the pot or canner using tongs (place on a canning rack, if you have one), making sure there is at least 2 inches of water to cover. Bring water to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Using tongs, carefully remove each jar and place on a kitchen towel, undisturbed, to cool for several hours to room temperature.
Hang around and listen for a while. You should hear each of the lids “pop”, indicating that they have sealed properly. If the lids don’t properly seal, refrigerate or freeze. Those that do seal can be stored in a pantry for up to 6 months.
Wondering what you can do with an overabundance of peppers (or tomatoes, or zucchini, etc)? Check out our conversation over at Udi’s Gluten-Free Living Community for ideas!