The first time I used habañero peppers I was a sophomore in college and just starting to get really into cooking. My roommate and I decided we wanted to make salsa. I can’t say what it was that led us to purchase habañeros exactly. Maybe the store was out of jalapeños and our pot addled minds figured not much of a difference, both spicy, what the hell?
I think I used 2 peppers to make what started as a quart of salsa and quickly became a gallon in a sad, frantic effort to temper the blazing inferno before me. The entire batch wound up in the compost, but not before I rubbed my face with my capsaicin coated hands. I’ve shied away from the little orange devils ever since.
So you can imagine my excitement when I unpacked my CSA to find an entire pint of them lurking at the bottom corner of the box, poised to utterly destroy my next foray into the world of spice.
But nobody puts Baby in the [bland] corner. With the holidays right around the corner (and cranberries in the same CSA pickup), I knew exactly what I would use them for. And then the second thing I would use them for (sitting on my counter right now, waiting to be tasted!).
Cranberry Habañero Jam
Before we get to the recipe, some words on making jam without a recipe. Yes it’s a little scary. Yes I have wasted some food. I strongly recommend the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. I reread the beginning of it every time I make jam without a recipe (or glance at it) to double check sugar proportions and get my visuals straight for the first stage and final stage foaming, I also use it when deciding whether or not to add pectin, or additional juice. This jam comes out almost like a relish texture in that it is quite thick, so you can add more liquid if you desire (or macerate cranberry/pepper mixture with sugar overnight). My intention is for this to be served over a soft cheese (pictured over cream cheese), so the final texture worked.
The quantities listed makes 3 cups, which I put into 6 -4oz- jars and processed in a water bath. You can store this in the fridge for immediate use, or the freezer for longer term storage. If freezing, you need more headspace and freezer-safe containers. More information on home processing here.
12 oz cranberries (about a pint)
2 small red or orange sweet bell peppers, stemmed and seeded
3 habaneros, stemmed and seeded
2 cups sugar (or about 16 oz)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Sterilize your jars in a large pot of boiling water while preparing jam. Place the lids & bands in a separate pan, top with water and bring just to a simmer before turning off the water.
In a blender or food processor combine all peppers (seeds removed) and half the cranberries and pulse until finely minced.
In a wide, heavy bottomed pot, combine cranberries, sugar, vinegar, and pepper mixture. Cook over medium heat. Stir occasionally while the jam cooks down, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so nothing burns.
Now, here is where reading the BCJC comes in handy. I waited for the first foaming, skimmed, then once I thought it was at the second & final stage of foaming, I tested for sheeting – I dipped a metal spoon into the jam, then held it at a slight angle. You’re checking for the liquid to come off the spoon in one dripping area, rather than dripping off the spoon wherever it pleases all willy-nilly. It took about 20 minutes of cooking to get to this stage.
If you’re not comfortable with doing this (and that’s fine – it takes practice!), you can use a candy thermometer, you’re looking for the mixture to get to 215 Farenheit.
Carefully ladle your jam into clean jars, leaving a half inch of headspace, top with lids & screwbands (not too tight), and process, or let cool.