AS FALL ARRIVES: HABANERO PEACH JAM

written + photographed by BRENDA ATHANUS

As mid-August signals the season’s change, that first flutter of yellow leaves show, delicately at a first but more each day as our appetite and cravings go in a new direction. My first inclination is---it’s almost boiled dinner time, well not quite. That is cause for a happy jig around here! A change in cravings, ingredients and cooking methods is on the horizon.  As I feel summer fleeting, I have a touch of sadness balanced by a true excitement for the golden light of Autumn days filled with a new food group…

I can’t wait to start braising again—my favorite way to cook, plus those last few jam jars filled with late-season peaches (you know the ankle wetter that you spend an idle moment in January thinking about) and dinner not composed around your outside grill. Things made in a heavy cast iron enamel pot and put into a low and slow oven: lamb shanks, short ribs of beef, chicken thighs and even braised artichokes, everything likes a slow simmer.  I reminisce about how much I have missed the smell of food filling the air in my whole house, but it is okay because soon another season is coming. All in time, it’s not time until it’s time.

Fall, balances between tomatoes and winter squash, the last of the string beans, big ears of the long-awaited white, silver Queen corn and hopefully a second crop of peas.  it’s a delicate dance between the weather and farmers for the last and final, optimistic push.

The first thing I wonder, do I have enough jams to carry me through, do I have any jars filled with ‘something’ for impromptu entertaining? The answer is “never enough”.

As the peach crop takes its final swan dance I rush to a local farm, take up a friend’s kind offering of his few habaneros peppers and make a Habanero peach jam- that will brighten up early darkness on a January day after a long day shoveling new snow.

Something I have been making regularly is gravlax, it’s easy and practically makes itself. When the air cools I restart making my bagels, shaping, flavoring, boiling and baking again, and it is pure kitchen happiness. Especially schmeared with cream cheese and your own gravlax. That is a breakfast. Well, it is for me.

And, not grilling chicken until next year, relief sweeps over my forehead and my cooking senses come back from humid summer weather that nullifies my creativity.

I am ready to dine in the most classical way: tablecloths, flowers, extra flatware instead of the basic fork, spoon and knife.  Maybe add a cloth napkin and a little extra fussing in the coolish air of early Fall.

I am ready to dine on things slowly cooked in an oven with a little coaxing or a jam pot breaking big boiling bubbles, but I look forward to my food sharing its beautiful aroma with me, and me sharing it with the ones I love.

Habanero Peach Jam

Yields: 2, 8-ounce jars

1 pound of peeled and chunked peaches (juicy and fragrant)
2 cups sugar
Juice of half a lemon
2 fat little habanero peppers

Dice the habanero peppers (be careful) and combine the prepared peaches in a heavy bottom pot. Turn the heat to medium-low and bring to a light simmer. Remove the foam as it cooks and with a potato masher break apart the peach chunks and peppers into a jam consistency—I like mine to have texture with random chunks and not all smooth. You are the decider.

To check if the jam is ready, chill a lunch-size plate and when you think your jam is thick enough drop a small spoonful of jam on the plate. Wait half a minute and turn the plate on its side—does the jam move slowly or drip down the plate at a fast clip? Slow is what you want—it is called the gel point. Repeat and check until it is the right consistency. When it has reached the gel point, take the pot right off the burner. Spoon into sterilized, hot jam jars, save a half inch of air space at the top, cover and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Count 10 minutes when the boil returns, or skip all this and refrigerate once cool.

Jam will keep for 30 days. Use this to glaze roast chicken, or game hens, pork roast or pour on top of a block of cream cheese … tastes great in a Bloody Mary!


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