I hope you made the apple butter. It is easy and tasted like you worked days to make it.Our next project is Pepper Jelly. If you have never tasted Pepper Jelly on a cracker with cream cheese; you have missed out on one of the best tasting things in the jelly neighborhood. Parties have been given just so people can serve and eat Pepper Jelly. Looking at a table decked out with green and red pepper jelly just makes me hungry. I mentioned green or red Pepper Jelly because those are the traditional colors. I am not sure why, except those are the Christmas holiday colors, and people tend to give more parties that time of year. Someone in the past started using those colors and the tradition started. Just for fun sometimes we use different colors for our jelly, imagine blue or yellow or orange pepper jellies. When you make yours, you can decided what color to make it. At shows people used to ask me which was hotter, the red or the green. I laughed a little to myself, and told them they both tasted the same, the only difference was the colors. They would taste the samples and tell me the red was hotter than the green. I would say that if that is the case, a Red Velvet Cake was the hottest food in the world. Sometimes they would walk away, and sometimes they would think about it and laugh. So what type of person are you?
Well, let’s get started making our jelly. The first thing you want to decide is what kind of peppers to use; sweet bell peppers or one of the hotter varieties. More than likely any pepper jelly you have tasted has been made with bell peppers. Some of the best tasting jelly I have ever tasted came from Jalapeno’ peppers. We have even used much hotter peppers to make jelly, so it is up to you. We will use bell as a starting point and if you are interested, the next batch use something else. The time it takes to make Pepper Jelly may be one of the things that scare people away from making it. It is going to take a couple of weeks to make really great jelly, OK jelly can be made after a few days. We are going for the best, so a couple of weeks.
Your shopping list is not going to be big to start. First item: Peppers. You can find good peppers in packages, but I like to pick mine out from a pile. If you have a fresh produce marker or something like that in your area, shop there. If not, your grocers will do. You will need 3 or 4 good size peppers, green will do nicely. Next on the list is vinegar. We use cider vinegar, for the taste, but you decide. A quart of vinegar will do the job. If you want to make your jelly different colors, pick up a pack of Food Dye (not Food Coloring). Food Dye is a natural food coloring not artifical. This is all you need to start. More items later when cooking starts.
Take the peppers and cut them into quarters and then wash them. Remove the stem, the seeds, and the white membrane. For the next step you can use a knife, but a food processor works better. Even one of those choppers you see on late night tv would work. You need to chop the peppers to the smallest size you can; more edges means better jelly. I hope this makes sense to you, the more surface area exposed to the vinegar means a better infusion, and the infusion is what we cook with. Take your peppers and put them in a container and add your vinegar. We use glass containers, but a plastic one will work. Most anything else might react with the acid vinegar. Put the lid on tight and mix the container, then set it in an area of your kitchen that does not get any direct sunlight. We don’t want the vinegar to start to warm, we don’t want cooked peppers. Every few days mix up the container, make sure you have no leaks. When your infusion is ready you will need more things, so for your next shopping trip you will need cane sugar (important, more about this later), food coloring, salt (Kosher, Sea or canning), boxes of pectin and apple juice. For the apple juice, do not use the kind that says made from concentrate. That means it is made with water. No extra water, it makes the jelly not set up as hard. Pepper Jelly does not set hard to start with and if you make it with added water, it might not set up at all. For the pectin, you can use Sure-Jel, found just about everywhere. We use Can-Jel from Kroger, it works just as good and cost less. Save those dollars when you can. You will also need 8 ounce canning jars. We almost always bought our jars at Big Lots, they have a complete section for canning supplies at a lower cost. Fred’s also has the same thing. So shop around for the best price. Do not buy 16 ounce jars. If you need more jelly at your party, open a second jar. Unused jelly can’t be added back to the jar, so just use 8 ounce. I mentioned cane sugar; this is sugar made from sugar cane only. You can buy sugar that is made from beets on the very same shelf, it just doesn’t say Beet Sugar. You have to read the label to be sure. My grandmother told me to always use cane and that is what we use. We try to never stray too much from the things she taught me. One other item needed, is unbleached muslin. You only need about a yard of it, then cut into 18″ X 18″ squares. Washed and dried like the way mentioned in my last blog about the utensils needed to cook jelly. Some say use cheese cloth, but we have never had success with it and just quit trying.
Your two weeks are up and you are now ready for the cooking part. Take your container of peppers and mix one more time, then pour thru a pocket of muslin in a strainer. Make sure that you don’t fill your pocket too full, it will leak and you don’t want to waste any. With the first liquid you will see why we use the muslin, the liquid is clear. You can’t make good jelly if the liquid is not clear. One of the definitions I have read for jelly says that jelly is liquid, jam is crushed fruit. After the last liquid finishes dripping (don’t rush, it won’t take too long), Take the left over pieces of pepper and put them in a freezer baggie. Write the date and what is in the baggie. We will use these leftovers in another recipe real soon. Get your jars ready, wash (we put our jars in the dish washer and used the hot rinse cycle), the box may have had dust or other such things we don’t want in our jelly. Take a cooking pot big enough to hold all the ingredients, including room to boil without boiling over. A good pot is listed in the utensil blog. Measure all of your ingredients before you start cooking, you won’t have time later, I promise. You need 2 full cups of the infusion vinegar, 2 cups of apple juice, a box of pectin, 6 cups sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt for each batch (with our Pepper Jelly, we cooked more than one batch at a time). Start cooking by mixing the juice and vinegar then add the box of pectin. Make sure it is dissolved completely. When it comes to a roiling boil (that means a boil that doesn’t stop when you stir), add the salt and sugar. Mix throughly to make sure the sugar get dissolved. Bring back to a roiling boil and cook for 1 minute exactly. This is important, you guessed, because less than a minute and it won’t set. Over a minute and it will not set as well. Correct timing is a must in jelly cooking. Not so much in other things. After the minute remove from the heat or turn off the gas burner. Now is when you add your food dye, don’t over do, a little goes a long way. Just a drop at a time while stirring. Check the color and add more if needed. Now let the pot set still for 2 or 3 minutes. You will see a skim form, this needs to be removed along with any bubbles or anything else. Use a spoon or a skimmer for this. Ladle your jelly into your prepared jars, be carefull, use a good ladle and a food funnel. Fill the jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Very important not to over fill, jars will not seal right. It would be a shame to go to all this work and have something like an over filled jar ruin your day. You can under fill a little, that is OK. These may need help processing or just set in the fridge and enjoy the low volume jar as a snack tonight. Now you need to take a damp paper towel and clean the rims of each jar. This is also very important, unclean jars don’t seal. With the case of canning jars you received 12 domes and 12 rings. These make up the top of the jar. The rings should be rinsed and set ready to use. The domes need to be rinsed and then put in a small pot and heated on the stove. This sterilizes the dome that comes in contact with the jelly. Be carefull taking each one out, you can get burned very easily. We use a small plastic stick with a magnet on the end for easy retrieving. You can find one of these at the hardware store or where you bought your jars. Place the sterile dome on the jar with the shiny side up and the side with the rubber seal down. Then screw on the rings finger tight, over tight and the air inside the jars can’t escape so no seal. Not tight enough and water gets into your jar, bummer. You will need a canning pot to boil your jars. Fill the pot so that the jars will have at least 2 inches of water covering the jars. Bring the pot to a boil then add your jars. Boil for 10 minutes and remove the jars and place on a drying rack or a counter top to cool and set over night. The next day check the domes to make sure they are sealed. If they are not, you will have to get a new dome and reprocess. An unsealed jar is not a problem for use, we just keep it in our refidge and eat it first. The sealed jars are ready for your labels and can be given away as gifts or taken to the next party along with good crackers and cream cheese. If you take green and red jars along, you can have fun with which is hotter. Tell your friends the story, I will bet some still don’t believe you.
After you have been successful with bell peppers, try a batch with jalapeno’ peppers. Everything is the same, except use disposable gloves when you do the processing of the peppers. We have even made Habanero Pepper Jelly, and it was a major hit with some of our customers that I called “Hot Heads”. We love hot foods, the hotter the better. But if bell peppers is your speed, then just stick to them. On occasion we made our jelly using both colors in the same jar. We made the green coloring, then let the jars set overnight (make sure they are covered not sealed). The the next day we made another batch using red. Carefully, we ladled in the red and then we processed the jars. They looked great. Some people thought that was a stupid idea, well that is the only kind of ideas I get.
I have been told that I should keep my blogs shorter, unde a 1000 words. We are up to 2141 now. Let me know what you think. Are my long blogs OK, or do you want two short ones on each jelly. Let me know if I need to talk less, something Mary Lynn has been trying to get me to do for over 25 years. Also please let me know of any request or any questions. I will try to answer them all. I am really new at blogging as you are new at making jelly. I hope we both get more comfortable at our new jobs. Please subscribe to my blog, this way you will receive a message telling you a new one is out. Also please pass me along to your friends.