Long-time followers of the Underground know how much I enjoy a good pepper jelly. The stuff is quite easy to make too. With the garden right on peak production of chiles and farmers markets everywhere overloaded with many inexpensive choices (if you don’t grow your own heat), now’s a great time to get out the canning gear and go for it! Besides, what makes a better Christmas present than a couple jars of hand-crafted pepper jelly? (Okay, maybe a new car. And there’s that trip to Bali. But I can’t think of another single thing.)
If you’re just learning how to make pepper jelly, then I recommend you print out and study the guide found on the Pick Your Own site. It’s ten pages, with pictures and lots of options. Including how to make low-sugar jelly.
PJ and I chose to start out slowly, with a simple mix of red bell pepper and red peppers from the garden: Cayenne, Serrano and ripe jalapeño. We got out some half-pint Ball jars and got them clean and into the oven (at about 200°F) to maintain sterile conditions. By the way, you can also use your dishwasher to sterilize the jars, if you’ve got the right settings. You may want to run the washer once on empty, though, before committing your glassware (and thus your canned goodies) to that process. The benefits are obvious, though: Simple, hands-off, and the dishwasher’s good and clean afterwards!
Anyway, we chopped the bell peppers, then donned gloves and dissected the hot chiles. Remember, don’t ever touch your face or any exposed skin with those gloves on! (Don’t ask how we know this; just don’t do it.) Then into the small food processor, a batch at a time, to process down into teensy bits. I don’t quite take the peppers down to full purée, but pretty close. I had to stop the processor and scrape down the bits a couple times for each batch. Took a couple of batches for this size lot of jelly (5-6 half-pints expected).
We chose to make a lower-sugar variety this time. Some of the Old Folks in the Clan are watching their sugar intake, and I don’t want to short them on zesty because of refined carbs! So we measured out two cups of sucralose and two of sugar. We used low/no-sugar pectin (powdered type) as well. The nice thing about that is, you CAN add sugar, you just don’t have to. If you use regular pectin, you have to use sugar; quite a bit, actually.
We put in about 10 oz of vinegar. As it turns out, that’s probably a bit light. I thought, with all the extra pepper mass we had, we’d be long on volume. Once we got the jelly cooked, though, it only filled four jars. I bet that stuff will be extra-zesty! Probably a bit on the sweet side too. Oh well. The product was certainly a beautiful, deep shade of red! No food coloring needed either.
The next batch, we mostly doubled the recipe. Although I more than doubled the vinegar. I stayed a bit light on the sweetener, though. I substituted 12 oz of cinnamon candy for the same amount of sweetener. As I cooked the jelly I added about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom, a great spice that complements cinnamon (and chile heat) nicely. Enough to add to the flavor and aroma, not enough to make the jelly cloudy.
This batch came out on the long side! I guess you would say on average we were pretty good at this stuff. So after the day’s work we have a dozen half-pint jars and one lonely pint. Some nice Christmas gifts!
That makes it sound like we spent all day on those two batches of jelly. Not true! The first one took about an hour or so to pull together, even with careful reviewing of the recipe plan and gathering all the hardware and software. The second batch took a bit longer, as PJ wasn’t available during part of it and there were more peppers to process; as well as dished to clean from the previous batch before we could proceed. So we had most of the day to get out and see the sights. (We went shopping, of course.)
This coming week I’ll make a batch of green pepper jelly, using jalapeños from the garden and some nice green bells I found on sale at the grocer. I’m also going to go a teensy bit crazy and make a batch of orange pepper jelly. Yes, it’s way out there on the edge, I tell you! However, that same grocer had some beautiful orange bells on sale, and I have some orange habañeros to do something with. And a couple red habs as well; I may just toss them in to give the whole thing a bit deeper orange color. (That’s it! Color!)
Wish me luck…
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