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Not your average strawberry

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Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 10:50 am

Last July, the News-Sentinel reprinted an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a Georgia woman, Lauri Jo Bennett, who had capitalized on her talent for making fruit and pepper jellies by selling them online.

Although I normally don’t get too excited about sugary fruit concoctions, I do enjoy canning and spent a little time producing various versions of her recipe. Lauri Jo called for blueberries but noted that other fruits worked as well.

I produced a peach-habanero, using red and yellow bell peppers and one habanero, which we really like; surprisingly, it’s pretty mild. I then made the batch of blueberry, but a low-sugar version; I used jalapeños and green bells. Again, very tasty.

For a low or no-sugar adjustment, follow the directions on jars of low-sugar pectin; it will make about half of the finished product-perfect if you don’t use much jam or jelly, anyway, and the flavor is still quite good. Last week, I put up another batch. The current fruit of choice, obviously, is strawberries; every street corner in the valley has a stand open right now.

This time, I used orange and yellow bell peppers and red jalapeños-double the chiles, as a matter of fact, just to see if the heat factor kicked in. It didn’t really have any more heat but the flavor was even better. Below, I list Lauri Jo’s proportions; feel free to add or subtract hot chiles, as you see fit. Change up the bell pepper colors and/or use cider vinegar. I’m waiting for my purple bell to put forth its first pepper for the next batch of jelly (maybe Blackberry-Thai Chile!)

Otherwise, it’s her recipe. Be very sure to follow all manufacturer’s directions for the canning process, especially if you are new to the method or have not canned in years. If you do make a change to the vinegar, make sure that it has 5 percent acidity listed on the label. I am always interested in new, completely different uses for familiar ingredients; at the moment, I am trying combinations that take the innocent strawberry in different directions.

So, I have a bruschetta topping that I found in a seasonal magazine but have tweaked a bit. This one really needs no formal list, just the basic ingredients added in quantities that suit you: toasted rounds sliced from a French baguette, sliced strawberries, quartered grape tomatoes, minced red onion, fresh basil leaves; slivered, one eight-ounce container of cubed peaches (look in the refrigerated produce section), drained, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar (small amount), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The original recipe calls for goat cheese, spread on the toasted, cooled rounds of bread, then topped with the fruit mixture. Cream cheese is a good substitute. So, on to the jelly:

Strawberry-jalapeno jelly

2 cups very finely chopped bell peppers (3-4 large)

2 or more fresh jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped

7 cups granulated white sugar

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

9 ounces liquid pectin

1 cup fresh strawberries, small dice

Prepare half pint jars, lids and rings according to manufacturer’s directions and set aside. In a large, deep saucepan, combine bell peppers, jalapenos, sugar and vinegar over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil; taking care not to allow boilover. Add pectin and bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. After a minute, add strawberries, mashing with spoon and bring back to a boil for three minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for about two minutes. Skim off any foam.

Ladle mixture into waiting jars. Place a flat lid and ring on each jar as soon as it is filled; tighten just until snug — do not overtighten. When all jars are filled, process by water bath method for five minutes, taking care to keep jars covered by at least one inch of water. After processing, remove from pot and allow to cool. Allow jars to sit for 12 hours (After one hour, check to see if jars have sealed by pressing down on center of each lid. If any of the jars have not sealed, label and store in refrigerator. Use within one to two weeks). After 12 hours, label and store in cool, dark place.

Note: jelly may take up to two weeks or even a little longer to fully set, although may be used at any time. Delicious when poured over cream cheese while still semi-liquid and served with crackers. Makes eight to nine half-pints (regular recipe); about four half-pints using low sugar recipe.

Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.

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