Bright Pepper Jelly (and Welcome to the new Willow Bird Baking)

by Julie Ruble on November 30, 2011 · 61 comments

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:

It’s easy.

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.

Ingredients:
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

Equipment needed:
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

Directions:
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.

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

DessertForTwo November 30, 2011 at 4:21 am

It looks great, Julie!!! I adore it! And I adore you ;)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

The feeling is mutual, Christina! Thank you!

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Vanessa November 30, 2011 at 4:23 am

Love, love, love the new site Julie!! Congrats :-)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Thank you, Vanessa!!

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Sophia Spach November 30, 2011 at 4:23 am

Woah! This looks really cool. Yumm :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Thanks, Sophia :)

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Cathy November 30, 2011 at 4:43 am

Good work! Looks nice and clean! I love it! Now I need help with my own…what do you do when you’re in a dry spell? :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Oh, good question! I usually start paging through magazines or cookbooks that have really whimsical recipes — to get my imagination moving again. As for dry spells with writing, I find myself looking more and more to the “small stuff” of my everyday life — sometimes tiny events really spark a story in me when I pause to reflect on them.

Thanks, Cathy!

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naomi November 30, 2011 at 6:02 am

Love jelly and pics! And I really love the site! It fits you well. :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Thanks so much, Naomi!

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Sumaiyyah November 30, 2011 at 7:31 am

Hi Julie! I think your blog is lovely and it seems appropriate that being a newcomer here, I’m welcomed by your new blog design. I love how the jar of pepper jelly looks in the first picture- it reminds me of autumn! I’d also like to read more about canning, do you have links to interesting reads on them?

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Ooh, great links posted by Teri below. I googled around so much that I wouldn’t say there was one resource I used, but I love this site she posted: http://www.freshpreserving.com/home.aspx. I think if I were going to do more canning, I’d invest in a canner or a bigger stock pot — mine was big enough, but JUST big a hair, so that I had to really watch the water level (or it’d boil over or get too low).

I’m so glad you could share this transition with me, Sumaiyyah! You happened by at just the right time. ;)

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Lauren at Keep It Sweet November 30, 2011 at 10:54 am

The new site looks amazing, congrats!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Thanks, Lauren!

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Teri November 30, 2011 at 11:20 am

Welcome to the world of canning, Julie!!
Sumaiyyah, I always link people to http://www.freshpreserving.com/home.aspx , the home of Ball canning jars. The site has a pretty good rundown of everything you need to know about canning, plus they’re the brand you are most likely to encounter in the stores, so you can get a feel for the products they carry. The second site I send people to (I do a lot of canning, but most people I know aren’t regular preservers) is http://nchfp.uga.edu/index.html, the National Center for Home Food Preservation. They’ve got a ton of information broken down by what type of food preservation you’re looking at, and what type of food you’re preserving! Both sites are great places to get started.

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Sumaiyyah November 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Thank you so much, Teri! I’m off to have a look now. Tq! :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm

You rock, Teri! What great resources. Love it.

Thanks so much!

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Sprigs of Rosemary November 30, 2011 at 11:48 am

I love pepper jelly! (The green stuff, too!) And I’m fairly new to canning, just two years of sporadic efforts in the kitchen. It’s great fun, really, although like baking, you have to be more careful than with the free-wheeling cooking I love. Nice new look!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm

You definitely do! I was careful — would hate to give someone botulism or something awful on my first try. Yikes. But thankfully it’s easy to get it right, and there are so many possibilities!

Thanks so much :)

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Sandra November 30, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Beautiful site and I’m saving the recipe. I can think of so many yummy uses for it.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Thanks so much, Sandra! I kind of want to slather this stuff on a grilled cheese! ;)

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Winnie November 30, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Beautiful jelly, and your new site design looks gorgeous…congrats!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Thank you, Winnie!

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Claire-o November 30, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Julie! You’re amazing! I love the site, its design certainly suits you!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Aw, thank you, Claire-o :)

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Sarah November 30, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Hey girl! The new site looks great. Longtime reader, first-time (?) commenter…some while back I was searching for CLT food blogs (since I live here, too), and after stumbling on yours made you a permanent member of my RSS family :) Always enjoy your stories, and the recipes look divine!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Sarah! And thanks for commenting — I LOVE hearing from folks. Especially awesome Charlotteans! Whereabouts are you? I’m up by Northlake Mall.

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Sarah December 7, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I’m closer to Uptown/Dilworth/South End – don’t get up to Northlake area much, except for passing through on my way out of town sometimes, haha :)

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Denise November 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Your new website is lovely and this recipe looks like something that would be right up my daughter-in-law’s alley and I wanted to send it to her but I don’t see a button the SHARE the post on Facebook or via some other medium.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Thanks for noticing this Denise! I’ve added both FB and Twitter share buttons on each post below the title. I hope that’s helpful! I might fiddle with their placement, but they’re there now at least :)

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Erin November 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

BEAUTIFUL web page! I know everyone else has already said the same thing, but I wholly agree! It’s so CLEAN!! and the title at the top is welcoming and professional. I’m so thankful that a little over a year ago I started following you and it is one of the many blessings in my life! Glad the jelly worked out! <3

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Aww, you are too sweet, Erin. I think of you as a blessing in my life as well. Thank you!

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natalie (the sweets life) November 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm

i absolutely LOVE your new site—it suits you perfectly and the recipe index is so impressive! totally coming here when i’m looking for a certain colored food :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm

LOL, thank you, Natalie! I knew SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, SOMEDAY would want some blue food . . . ;)

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Anneliesz November 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Julie- your new site looks fantastic. I’ve never made pepper jelly before but it sure is popular in TX and I think yours looks quite festive for this time of year. I bet jars of your jelly would make for good homemade gifts.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Such a good idea! I’m totally packaging some of these little jars up. Thanks Anneliesz :)

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Gina November 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Wow it looks great over here, not that you looked bad before, but I think this look suits you. Love the cute header. Pepper jelly is rather addicting, my husband keeps asking for more. Glad you worked through it and canned some, I’m sure you will have a fully stocked pantry of jams soon. Hope you have a great week.
-Gina-

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Thanks so much, Gina! Mariah Humphries at Jula Studio (http://www.julastudio.com/) did that header and I just adorrrre it. Those fat birdies! So sweet!! :D

I hope you’re right re: the fully stocked pantry. I definitely enjoyed my first canning experience!

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Hallie12409 November 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I was terrified of canning as well until my dad got it into his head that he wanted to make pickles every summer with his HUGE crop of cucumbers. Five years ago, when I was still single and living in my hometown, we started making the BEST pickles of all time (you can tell I mean it because I wrote it in all caps). It’s a little more work than other canning projects, but completely worth it. Even though I’m married and living two hours away, one weekend when I come home in the summer we make our pickles.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I love it!! What great family memories. And I totally now want some of the BEST pickles ever! Yum.

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Konnie November 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I used to make this when my children were all living at home. It’s also great as a glaze on pork loin. even better slathered on pork chops or chicken on the grill right before the end of their grilling time.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 30, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Ooh, yum, Konnie! What a great idea! I’m so glad I have 6 more jars — plenty to try this out! Thanks for the tip.

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Gio December 1, 2011 at 12:30 am

the new layout is amazing Julie. I’m glad i (virtually) met you before this major shift. you’ve been one of my “icons” when it comes to blogging. to the next chapter! :D

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 1, 2011 at 12:38 am

Aww, thank you, Gio! I’ve loved having you along for the ride — that’s for being such a good friend.

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Joanne December 1, 2011 at 2:04 am

I am LOVING the new site, Julie! It’s kind of exactly what I want my site redo to be like…super squeaky clean and cute!

I first had pepper jelly at a friend’s wedding last year. It was smeared on top of a savory cheesecake. Uh, yeah. Awesome.

I’m totally afraid of canning also…but maybe I really want this jelly enough to conquer my fears!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 2, 2011 at 5:41 am

Thank you, Joanne! That savory cheesecake has me thinking . . . ;)

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Julie at Burnt Carrots December 1, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Oh! Pepper Jelly is one of my favorites! I love to pair it cream cheese and a cracker! You photos are beautiful and I’m happy you decided to can so you could post this!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 2, 2011 at 5:42 am

Thanks, Julie! I’m glad I went for it, too! So nice to learn something new!

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Foodiewife December 2, 2011 at 4:56 am

Congrats on the website design. I am sure there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work to accomplish this. I’m very proud of you for learning how to can. It is easy! I’m on the hunt for a red pepper jelly. This weekend, I hope to experiment for my own version. Ooooooooh, try it with cream cheese. Positively addicting!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 2, 2011 at 6:25 am

Thank you, Debby! I was surprised by how simple it turned out to be!! Can’t wait to see yours!

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Erin December 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Love the new site. So cute!!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Thanks, Erin!

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Jessica @Sunny Side Up December 3, 2011 at 5:36 am

I love this new look! Homey and welcoming, just like you describe. Totally fits your style! I love pepper jelly too. :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 3, 2011 at 5:38 am

Thank you, Jessica! :D

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga December 3, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I am totally addicted to both TJ’s mango red pepper chutney and their newer jalepeno sweet jelly. Both are awesome but I could go into the poor house…I like a little food with my condiment love.

This looks fabulous!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 4, 2011 at 12:34 am

Thanks, Averie! I was so pleased with how easy it was to make, too! I’ll have to try the TJ versions, though — they sound delicious.

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Rachel December 5, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Hey Ms. R, thats looks really good I made eggless cookie dough with my bros it was really good!
You said to leave a comment so I did.

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Rachel December 5, 2011 at 10:17 pm

p.s. love the new site the birds are sooo cute

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Thanks :) They remind me of Byrd.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm

LOL, thanks Rachel! I’m so glad to hear that the cookie dough worked out well!

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Melissa August 28, 2012 at 11:14 am

-Just found this recipe via Pinterest (I’m desperate to re-create my grams, and this one Looks exactly like hers did :) One of my favorite ways to eat it is on a pizza; I use leftover cooked pork, a sprinkle of thyme, sauteed red onions and Apples on a Puff pastry with pepper jelly as the sauce and whatever cheese I’ve got handy on top. Super Yummy!

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