Friday, September 17, 2010

Things to do (and not do) with produce – Part one of three

Things to do (and not do) with produce – Part one of three
Jalapeno Jelly -September 17, 2010
            So, a friend made a suggestion regarding a topic I should write about which pretty much reminded me that I have actually done other things during the last 109 days, besides sit on my ass and watch television, play on Facebook, and get rejection letters from prospective employers. I have experimented with produce.
Heads out of gutters please, I’m serious. It started out this summer when we had a friend over (really can’t, for the life of me remember who, but feel free to post if you think it was you) and Sarita asked me to find something tasty to snack on. Always a challenge when I haven’t gone grocery shopping recently. I was pretty certain “something tasty” did not reside in the refrigerator, so I started rummaging through the cupboards and came upon an unmarked jar of something dark and green. Hmm, thought I, could this be the “something tasty” I was searching for? I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to open the mystery jar, stick my finger in it and taste it, but those who know me are not finding this to be odd behavior for me I’m sure. Turned out to be both hot and sweet – Jalapeno Jelly, or rather, jam, it had more texture than jelly. Sarita agreed that this qualified as “something tasty” if properly accompanied by cream cheese and crackers. Fortunately we had both of these items on hand and were able to indulge in this oh-so-something-tasty snack.
As we munched away, it occurred to us that we had no idea where the mysterious jar of dark green stuff came from. It had no label and we really had no recollection of receiving it. At first Sarita suggested that it might have come from one of my “crafty” friends I met while working my temporary job (Linda, Merrie, you were prime suspects). I was pretty sure I would remember one of my friends giving me mysterious jars of dark green stuff, so the mystery remained. We wanted to know who gave it to us for two reasons: 1) to offer thanks and 2) to ask for the recipe so that we might replicate it and have “something tasty” whenever we wanted it.
It soon became clear that we were not going to be able to remember how the hell that jar came to be in our cupboard (we were too embarrassed to just send an email to every person in both of our address books and ask) so I did what anyone would do in this age of technology. I Googled “Jalapeno Jelly recipes.” Turns out there are several variations to the recipe: some have bell peppers (pick the color of your choice); others have you removing ALL of the seeds (why make Jalapeno Jelly if you are just going to take all the heat out); some had you straining the cooked product through cheesecloth to make it a true “jelly.” I decided to try the one with the bell pepper because it offered the most detail and neither I nor Sarita had made jelly before so I was flying blind.
Here is where I need to back up a bit in time. One of the stressors that accompanies unemployment is the fear that Christmas will happen as scheduled and you will still be jobless. Sarita suggested that we put together baskets of canned goods (sorry friends and family, just blew the surprise for you all, but I’ll preserve some of it by not telling you the identity of every food product you’ll get. And yes, the pun was intentional). I was a little confused when she pulled the “canning supplies” together from the garage and I saw that there was not a single can in the box. Just a bunch of jars and lids. Sarita explained that one uses jars to can. Yeah, right. I have subsequently referred to this process as “jarring.” Seems like a more accurate description of the  process and finished product.
So, back to the jalapeno jelly recipe: One of the other things I liked about the recipe is that it was so detailed as to include step by step in “jarring” the jalapeno jelly so that one does not have to eat the 6 half pint jars right away (though believe me, I can). We decided that if I actually found a recipe as good as the one in the mysterious jar of dark green stuff, we’d have another item for the Christmas baskets (we already had two items, which I must keep a secret until after Christmas).
Round 1: I followed the recipe to the letter. The result: Jalapeno Slushies.
Round 2: I modified the recipe a bit hoping to get the jelly to actually gel. The result: something so thick we couldn’t get it out of the jar without a chisel.
Round 3: I found another recipe and took the steps from the first recipe. The result: Texture passable (still a little more gelled than I wanted, the mysterious jar of dark green stuff kind of poured out), but not spicy enough and more on the sweet side.
Round 4: Modified the second recipe (more jalapenos, a tad less sugar). The result: came up with something relatively tasty that we felt okay about “jarring.”
We were mourning the emptiness of the mysterious jar of green stuff and the fact that we had not kept a sample to take to a lab for analysis so as to find out exactly what was in it. Somewhere in all of this our oldest son came over (it was a several day process). It came up in conversation that I was trying to come up with a good jalapeno jelly recipe. He mentioned offhandedly that he had made jalapeno jelly. We pounced on him!
“Well,” He equivocated, “Actually, I helped Kate make it.” (We later discovered that “helping” mostly means hovering around the kitchen.)
Sarita snatched up the empty jar and thrust it in his face, “Does she use this kind of jar?”
“Uh, yes.”
SUCCESS!!! We promptly got the jalapeno jelly recipe (and another full jar) from Kate and I commenced on round 6. I have discovered that powdered pectin yields a more pourable product than the liquid pectin for some reason. I’ve discovered that smaller jalapenos have more heat than larger ones, so being lazy and getting big ones so that you have to stem and cut fewer does not yield as hot a jelly as getting twice as many small ones. Finally, I have learned that, try as I may even WITH the recipe in hand, I will never exactly replicate the taste of the mysterious jar of green stuff I found in our cupboard this summer. But I’ve come close and it tastes good!
Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
¾ lb jalapeno chili peppers, seed some if you want it less hot.  (see Comment #1 & #2 below)
2 cups cider vinegar
6 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch powdered pectin if you want it pourable.
Food coloring (green or red), optional

#1 - Note: Jalapeno jelly can be pretty "hot" if you have included a lot of the seeds in your cooking. Smaller Jalapenos tend to be hotter than large ones. IMPORTANT: Wear rubber disposable gloves when you clean the jalapeno chilies! It's amazing how HOT the oil from the jalapenos is.  Don’t touch ANY parts of your body or it will burn!) 
#2 – I suggest serving the finished product with cream cheese. The fat molecules in the cream cheese absorb the hot capsaicin of the jalapenos, reducing the heat, but leaving the flavor of the chilies.

Remove stems from the jalapenos. Put the jalapenos in a food processor or blender with 1 cup of the cider and process until finely chopped (not pureed though).
In a large non-aluminum pot over medium-high heat, add blended pepper mixture, and the rest of the vinegar; bring to a hard boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add pectin and bring back to a hard boil stirring constantly until the boil can’t be stirred down.

Add Sugar and food coloring (optional) and bring back to a hard boil that can’t be stirred down for exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Skim off any foam (scum) that develops with a spoon. Remove from heat.
Have hot sterile 1/2-pint jars and lids ready.
Carefully and quickly pour hot jelly into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. 
Wipe any spilled jelly from jar rims. Center lids on top of jars and tighten screw bands securely, but not as tightly as possible. Process for ten minutes. Test seal, after cooling, with finger. If middle pops up when pressed, jar is not sealed.
Yields approximately 6 each 1/2-pint jars.
Prepare only one recipe at a time because double batches may not gel properly. Use 1/2-pint jars to avoid a weak gel that may result with larger jars due to residual heat during cooling


  1. LOL!!! LOVED the retelling of the story..BTW, the person who was over when we first tasted the mystery green stuff was Jill.


  2. And I ate some, which has since addicted me! I'm looking forward to a Christmas treat, because clearly I can't cook and this receipe is way over my head!

  3. Yep, I was the one present at the opening of the blissful mystery substance. I think I was also the one who suggested putting it over cream cheese. Sarita brought out a tub of soft cheese, and said it was the only kind you had. But...the first dip made for such a tantalizing taste treat that you felt you must try to replicate this immediately, and you headed off to Nugget. I have jars of versions 1, 2, and 2.1.