As a descendant of many generations of Swedish cuisine where butter and white sauce reign supreme and the only spice used to add any heat to food was the dab of hot mustard needed to kill the taste of the annual Christmas lutefisk dinner, I am genetically predisposed to the avoidance of hot spicy foods. In fact, until my first winter in Tucson, Arizona, the only pepper I had ever tasted was pre-ground, black and used sparingly. A Swede-Grove Township cook who even served stuffed bell peppers was considered brave and daring or just mad at her husband.
Due to my father’s military disability, when I was in fourth grade my family began wintering in Tucson, Arizona. I was transferred in and out of schools twice every year until I graduated from high school. Being a new kid at school is a considerable culture shock. Especially when you go from an all white class of less than 35 rural Minnesota kids to a large urban school where whites were no longer the majority.
One of the elementary schools I attended in Tucson, as odd as it may seem, was called White Elementary. I attended there during the winters of 5th and 6th grade. My teachers, Mrs. Swan and Mr. Garbini, were wonderful…and so was the food served in the cafeteria. None of the food was highly spiced, but I did learn that there were more peppers in this world than just bell and black. Gone were the school lunches of meat, potatoes and gravy that were the mainstay back home to be replaced by tacos, burritos, enchiladas and a variety of other ethnic dishes.
At that time a bean burrito at school cost 25 cents and I thought they were just about the best thing I had ever tasted. Until I sampled the huge cheese tostadas made at our local Mexican restaurant. Their huge thin crispy cheese tostadas were delivered to your table on a very large pizza pan and were served with either hot or mild salsa. Yes, the mild salsa bowl was emptied by us northern Swedes much faster than the hot one.
It is not often in life when you can remember the very first time you tried a new food, but I clearly remember my first taste of jalapeno peppers. They were ordered as a topping on one of those large cheese tostadas. The peppers were roasted, skinned and thinly sliced and became an instant favorite of mine.
Jalapeno peppers now are very common here in Minnesota. Why, I have even heard it rumored that some of the more adventurous folks around here actually grow them in their gardens. While jalapeno peppers show up to add some spunk to chocolate, brownies, pasta salads, casseroles and many other recipes, they are most excellent when paired with strawberries and made into jam.
Strawberry Jalapeno Jam
4 cups of cleaned, hulled and coarsely crushed strawberries.
1 cup of jalapeno peppers (finely minced or processed in food processor)
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
1 package of powdered fruit pectin
7 cups granulated sugar
First, sterilize eight half-pint canning jars with lids and rings by boiling them for a least 5 minutes. Keep them hot while you make the jam.
In a large tall-sided and heavy bottomed cooking pot place the hand-crushed strawberries, jalapeno pepper, lemon juice and pectin. Stir in sugar to dissolve.
Over high heat, quickly bring to a boil. (Long and slow boiling destroys the pectin and your jam will not thicken.)
Once the mixture has reached a full rolling boil, cook for one full minute. Remove from the heat and let jam sit for about five minutes.
Fill the sterilized canning jars to within 1/4 inch of the rim with hot jam. To remove air bubbles gently tap the bottom of the jar on the counter or run a clean knife around the inside edge of the jar. The rims of the jars need to be completely free of any food residue, so wipe the tops with a clean moist cloth or paper towel. Place lids and rings on the jars.
In a water-bath canner process the sealed jars of jam for 10 minutes in boiling water.
Cool completely, then store in a cool dark area.
This recipe is spicy, but not very hot. If you would like to add more heat to your jam add a little bit of habanero pepper.