Hot peppers are just beginning to change from green to fiery red around here. There will be plenty more ripening up in the coming weeks if the frost holds off, but I thought I’d get a headstart by preserving a big pile.
I had hot pepper jelly for the first time over at my neighbor Jane’s house. (By “neighbor,” I mean she only lives 2 1/2 miles away.) She brought out a plate of appetizers that included crackers topped with cream cheese and a dollop of this sweet-hot oozy jelly. It was such a great combo that I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Jane told me that she just followed the recipe that comes in a box of pectin, so that’s basically what I did, too. This was my first attempt at making it, and it was kind of a pain in the rear, so I’m not sure if I’ll do it again. It’s sure to be a hit on the next appetizer buffet, though. I serve mine with tangy, homemade chèvre.
Here’s how it went down…
Get yourself some peppers. I used a combo of cayennes, serranos, and big bombs.
Sterilize some jelly jars and canning lids. This recipe makes about 5 cups, so you don’t need quite this many jars.
Finely chop and measure out two cups of peppers.
You’ll also need 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and 2 cups of water.
Pour the chopped peppers, vinegar, and water into a saucepan.
Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat, cover, and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
Line a bowl with several layers of cheese cloth (I used one layer of good butter muslin), and pour the pepper mixture into it.
Hang your makeshift jelly bag over the bowl and wait until it stops dripping. Squeeze out a little more liquid.
Measure out 3 cups of pepper juice. In a separate bowl, measure out 4 cups of sugar…
and make sure you have a package of pectin on hand.
Mix up the juice and pectin in a saucepan, and bring it to a full rolling boil on high heat. Add the sugar, stirring constantly, and when it comes back up to a rolling boil, cook and stir it for exactly 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and ladle it into jars, leaving 1/8″ headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars, and screw on the lids.
Process the jelly by submerging the jars in water and boiling for 5 minutes (start timing when water boils). Instead of doing this in a canner pot, I opted to just boil them in a regular pot with a dishtowel lining the bottom to keep the jars from bumping around too hard.
Unlike some jams, this mixture was still very liquid-y when I jarred it up. I wasn’t sure if was going thicken up like the way I remembered Jane’s jelly. I let it sit out for a few hours, and fortunately when I checked it again, it had congealed significantly.
According to Jane, this jelly will mellow out quite a bit as the acid mingles with the heat of the peppers over time. Spicier peppers will result in spicier jelly, so use your own judgement about how you’d like it.
I had planned on following the recipe exactly as written because I knew how finicky pectin can be if you mess with sugar types and quantities. However, when I had my juice/pectin mixture boiling, I realized that I only had 3 cups of sugar in the house instead of 4. I made the quick decision to substitute about a cup of honey for a cup of sugar. Miraculously, it seems to have worked just fine.
These are serrano peppers. They’re typically used in Mexican cuisine, sometimes when they’re green and sometimes when they’re red. They’re probably the plumpest peppers that we can air dry around here without them rotting before they harden up.
I’m not into super spicy foods, but dried peppers are great to throw into a pot of beans or stew. You can also crush them later on to make your own red pepper flakes to sprinkle on anything and everything.
Stringing up peppers is not rocket science. Get a needle and some thread and tie a nice big knot at the end. Poke each pepper through the fattest part of the stem.
As you string them up, be sure to arrange the pepper positions so that they spiral around the thread.
As the chiles shrivel and dry, you can tighten up your strand by gently condensing peppers downward. Prominently display this edible decoration somewhere dry.