Last week I did around 8 billion google searches for recipes, and a solid million of those (give or take a few) were for pepper jelly.
I'd recently been inundated with it at restaurants -- pepper jelly on fried pimiento cheese balls, pepper jelly on grilled chile cornbread, pepper jelly on fried green tomatoes -- and had developed a bit of an obsession with the stuff.
My recipe search yielded tons of pepper jellies, but none were satisfactory. I was willing to experiment with the hot-sweet balance and the tang of my jelly, but I had one non-negotiable: I didn't want the recipe to involve canning.
I'd never canned before. I didn't know how to can. I didn't want to learn a whole new thing in the middle of a busy week. I wasn't sure if I had all the materials I needed. There were lots of reasons for my stubbornness. But much to my annoyance, recipe after recipe began, "Sterilize six half-pint mason jars . . . ."
Finally, still skeptical, I broke down and read about the process of preserving food. If you've ever done any canning yourself, you probably know what I found out:
Like, super easy. You sterilize some jars (which can be as simple as running them through the dishwasher), pour a simple hot jelly mixture into them, close the lids, and then boil them to create a seal. The "equipment" you needed was limited to jars, a pair of tongs with some rubber bands on the end for gripping, and a big stock pot. Really? This was what I was afraid of?
Running smack into a wall of my own self-doubt forced me to realize that it was comprised of shoddy materials -- insecurity, laziness, haste -- and needed to be torn down. It also reminded me of Willow Bird Baking's reason for being: to share life lessons and build kitchen confidence in other home cooks just like me. If I shy away from a new technique, how can I encourage my friends to charge ahead and tackle unfamiliar things?
Feeling admonished by my own website's mission, I prepared my materials and successfully canned seven lovely jars of bright pepper jelly. Mike and I glopped it onto buttered sourdough toast by the spoonfuls at our Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party on Saturday morning.
My pride in having tackled a new challenge renewed -- as it always does -- my dedication to the community here at Willow Bird Baking. Every comment or anecdote we share with one another encourages me when my pie crust turns to pie dust, my cake is falling over, or my brownies are lying in the floor. We're all in this together, and the result is more than just great food. The result is great friendships.
. . . and pepper jelly.
Speaking of the bonds we've forged over pepper jelly and other such culinary challenges, I've got something to show you. I've waited for weeks to reveal what I've been working on behind the scenes: Welcome to the new Willow Bird Baking!
We have a brand new home on the web (at willowbirdbaking.com) and a clean, warm new design. Willow Bird Baking is also sporting a new, exhaustive recipe index where you can browse recipes by type, season, meal -- and even by color!
This news means more to me than just a makeover. Willow Bird's appearance finally reflects the comforting, loving, simple environment we've created here. The blog become a forum to share everything from family memories to laughter over our mistakes. Really, the fact that I can reveal this new chapter in Willow Bird's life to you means the world to me. Thank you for reading.
Bright Pepper Jelly
Recipe by: Adapted from (thanks, Erin for this recipe!)
Yield: 7 half-pint jars of jelly
This pepper jelly is bright, tangy, and has the perfect balance of hot and sweet. Feel free to adjust the ratio of peppers to your taste, though, so long as the overall quantity is 4 cups. The consistency is that of a thin jelly -- if you like a thicker, spreadable jelly, I hear you can double the amount of pectin in the recipe. Serve this pepper jelly spooned over crackers with cream cheese or slathered on buttered toast. Oh, and don't worry if you've never canned anything before; the recipe below will walk you through the process step by step.
2 1/4 cups finely chopped red bell peppers
1 1/4 cups finely chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 (1.75 ounce each) package powdered pectin (or 2 if you want a thicker jelly)
5 cups white sugar
6 or 7 (8-ounce or half-pint) canning jars
tongs (preferably with rubber bands around the ends to improve grip)
a large stockpot or canner (with room for your jars to be fully submerged with 2 inches of water above the top of the jars)
a dish towel or rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot
Note: Do not adjust the amount of sugar and vinegar in canning recipes. Always use gloves when chopping jalapenos or other hot peppers and avoid touching your eyes or face. Wash your hands and surfaces immediately when finished.
Prepare ingredients: Chop the peppers by hand and then drain them in cheesecloth to remove excess moisture. Set them aside while you sterilize your jars. You can also measure out sugar and vinegar so that you're prepared.
Sterilize your tongs and 7 (8-ounce) canning jars: Place rubber bands on the end of the tongs, which will make it easier to grip your jars. Boil the ends of the tongs for 5 minutes to sterilize them. Sterilize your jars, lids, and rings by running them through a short cycle on the dishwasher or using the oven method or boiling water method (see below). No matter which method you choose, time them to be finished when your jelly is ready (preparing the jelly takes about 15 minutes) so that you can put the hot preserves into hot jars.
Oven method: Preheat the oven to 175 degrees F. Wash the lids and jars with hot, soapy water and rinse them. Line the lids and jars up on a baking sheet (open sides up) and bake them for 25 minutes.
Stovetop method: Wash the lids and jars with hot, soapy water and rinse them. Boil the jars and lids covered with water for 15 minutes.
While jars sterilize, make jelly: Place all of the peppers into a large saucepan over high heat. Add the vinegar and fruit pectin and bring the mixture up to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar and return the mixture to a full boil. Boil exactly 2 minutes, continuing to stir constantly. Remove the mixture from the heat and skim off any foam before carefully and quickly ladling the jelly into hot, sterile jars. Fill each jar to within 1/4 inch of its top. Cover each jar with a flat lid and screw on its ring.
Process your jars: Slowly lower the jars with tongs into a large stock pot or canner with a rack or a folded towel inside so the jars do not touch the bottom. Cover the jars with hot water that isn't boiling (the water depth should be about 2 inches above the top of the jars -- and make sure your pot is large enough that it won't boil over when the water boils). Bring the water to a full boil and process the jars for 5 minutes before removing them with tongs and cooling completely. Hearing the jars pop while they cool is normal -- this is the sound they make while they're sealing!
Store in a cool dark place until you're ready to serve over crackers with cream cheese, or on hot buttered toast. For best quality, use within a year. Refrigerate jars after opening for up to 1 month.