Remember how I said I was through making pepper jellies for the year? Well, I
lied through both teeth like an Oriental rug prevaricated and d issembled got talked into making some more. (That’s it! “Talked into.”)
For some reason, Central Market had some great-looking, fresh apricots. I don’t know where apricots are in season this time of year; Chile, maybe? Certainly can’t be any place in North America I can think of; those areas went past season months ago. Anyway, I saw those luscious fruits and couldn’t pass them by. They were a beautiful yellow with a overall orange tint, plump and firm, and several had rosy cheeks. I just knew they’d make a great apricot jam. (More on that later.)
So if I was going to get out the equipment, I decided to plan for several batches. A recent hard freeze had forced me to pick all the peppers the night before or they’d be ruined, so I had plenty of hot, red chiles, though they were quite small. I’d just toss them all in, regardless of variety, and use a big red bell to make a red pepper jelly. I found some nice orange habañero chiles and two nice-sized orange bells as well; I’d make a really hot batch of orange pepper jelly for the folks at PJ’s work. (The last batch wasn’t hot enough to suit their palates! I’ll show them…)
With the main characters in place I returned home and stored everything in anticipation of the impending family visits. I wanted to have my kitchen sidekick, Deric, alongside when I made the goodies. He’s at that age where cooking intrigues a youngster, and so when we get together we cook and he asks a lot of questions. He’s never made jam or jelly before, or even seen it made, so he had no idea what
he’d let himself in for the process was.
So we got up early and laid out all the hardware first. I explained what each piece was for: Canner, grippers, funnel, lid picker and so on. He was amazed it took so much equipment. (Later he was dismayed that it all had to be cleaned. By him.) Then we got out the fixings for the apricot jam: Apricots, bourbon (it’s for granny, you see), vanilla, sugar, sucralose, pectin. Deric wanted to know what each part did to make it a jam. I explained as we diced the apricots.
That prep went smoothly, although we got a bit strong on the vanilla. Fortunately it goes well with the fruit! We used a half-cup of bourbon, put in early so a good deal of the alcohol would boil out. That prevents lid blowouts during canning; no excess pressure from all the vapors. All the bourbon flavor stays in, though.
Canning gave us seven nice half-pint jars full, with a bit left over for taste-testing. I didn’t get much of that! Deric tells me it was fine.
As we cycled the dishes back through to reset the preparation area I talked about kitchen safety some more. Never can say too much about safety with youngsters! Deric took it all to heart. We got out the fixings for the habañero jelly next. I showed Deric how to use a small, sharp knife and get the chile flesh off without burning off your face. We used a dozen habs and two medium-sized, orange bells. I made the purée and handled the chiles; I didn’t want Deric to have the lovely experience of rubbing his face after handling habañero flesh!
That batch made exactly six jars, with barely a tasting bit in the bottom of the pot. It was pretty hot, but Deric liked it. (Reviews from PJ’s workplace indicate I got it hot enough this time.)
The final run used up all those Serranos, with a few other hot chiles tossed in for variety. Since I didn’t clean out any of these hot bits I knew this jelly would be quite hot. I had one red bell, and part of another; those went into the blender. Canning these using the standard recipe of 2.5 cups sugar, 2.5 cups sucralose and 3.5 Tbsp pectin worked just fine and gave us over five jars of product, but not enough for a sixth. So Deric and I hid the leftovers, on top of some toast and crackers. Which were then hidden in our tummies.
In all it was a fine morning’s work, and we got 18 more half-pints of tasty jam and jelly to share at Christmas. Deric learned a lot and I had fun. What could be better than that, I ask you…
Enjoy the (Zesty Jellies) Heat!
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