A friend dropped a few aji charapita peppers into my hand about a year ago. Pea-sized and electric yellow, they looked like miniature lemonsâ€”but they were deceptively hot. In fact, this Central American native (Capsicum chinense) can register a whopping 50,000 units on the Scoville heat scale.
Intrigued, I saved some seeds and grew a couple of aji charapita plants this season. Garden pests didn’t dare touch them, and the plants have produced so prolifically that I’ve had many more peppers than I could possibly use by myself. (I still harvest hundreds of the small-but-mighty peppers daily.)
Fortunately, besides passing raw peppers along to neighbors and friends, I’ve found a pretty sweet way to preserve my bounty and temper its heat. Turns out, aji charapitas nicely balance with the flavor of fresh peaches to create a not-too-cloying, not-too-hot jam. What’s more, you can heat-pack this concoction into prepared canning jars to give as gifts or to store for your own use long-term.
Want to whip up a batch of pepper-peach jam? The following recipe makes roughly 48 ounces in all.
- 4 tightly packed cups finely chopped peaches
- 1 cup finely chopped aji charapita peppers (Don’t have access to aji charapitas? Try habanero peppers instead.)
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 box powdered pectin
- 5 1/2 cups sugar (I prefer to use raw cane sugar.)
Yes, 5 1/2 cups of sugar is a lot. But it’s there for a reason. I’ve tried reducing the sugar content for the many kinds of jams I’ve made over the years, but I’ve had mixed results. Sometimes I can get away with using just a little less. In other instances, though, my jam didn’t properly set.
Also worth noting: If you are a vegan or vegetarian or if you choose to keep kosher or halal, you might opt for raw cane sugar rather than sugar that has been refined with bone char. Low-sugar pectin products are available, too. Some of these even afford the option of using alternative sweeteners such as stevia or agave.
If you plan to heat-pack your jam, you’ll need sterilized canning jars, canning lids and rings. A canning funnel and jar grabber also help.
To begin, rinse peaches, discard their pits and chop finely. Take extra care when handling hot peppers, as their volatile capsaicin compounds are released during processing. If your skin is easily irritated, wear surgical gloves as an extra safeguard. Also, avoid touching your eyes or mucous membranes. You can further limit your capsaicin exposure by chopping the hot peppers via food processor rather than by hand. After you’ve finished preparing your peppers, wash your hands thoroughly.
Now’s also the time to measure your sugar. Put it in a separate container and set aside.
Combine only the peaches, peppers and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan. Stir well over medium heat and gradually add the pectin powder. As they cook, the peppers release some capsaicin fumes. Use a fan or your range’s fume hood to mitigate your exposure to these.
Once you’ve mixed in the pectin, increase heat, and bring your fruity mixture to a full boil. Stirring in a little at a time, add all of the sugar into the fruit. Keep on high heat and continue stirring to avoid scorching your jam. Bring this back to a full, rolling boil. Continue to stir the boiling mixture and allow it to remain at a full boil for 1 minute. Failure to boil or failure to keep boiling for the full minute can affect the set of your jam.
After the minute’s up, your jam is ready to transfer to your prepared canning jars or other containers. If you are packing jam for long-term storage, leave about one-quarter of an inch at the top of each jar. Be sure your jars’ neck threads are clean and jam-free, so that your canning lids will seal tightly. (To sanitize my canning lids, I simmered them in a hot water bath just before applying them to my packed jars.) Screw on canning lid rings and let your containers cool. As they do, you should hear the tell-tale thunk sound as individual jars become fully sealed.
When properly canned, your pepper-peach jam should last a year or more. And if you choose not to can? Your jam should keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.