Pepper Jelly Incident with a recipe

Tabasco peppers are small. These are the variety of peppers I have grown all summer and the ones I recently spent time saving from a freeze that hit my area.  Although it seemed like there were a ton of these peppers on my plant, I only got 2 cups of whole peppers to do something with.

Over lunch one day in September with a friend, I decided that I would make pepper jelly and she would come over and help out.  Neither of us had ever made pepper jelly before so we thought it would be a fun thing to try.

The peppers took time ripening; I’d get a handful of red ones and have to wait a few days for more but there really were a lot of them and I wanted to use as many as I could. So we waited.

December came and it was time to get cooking. My friend couldn’t make it over at the time we planned so I went ahead and made them anyway. She decided we could make more later in the week when she could come over. I really had been waiting long to amass enough to work with and they were getting dried out so I just went with the original cooking date.

There are no recipes on the internet for pepper jelly using Tabasco peppers.  All I could find were jalapeno and habanero pepper recipes. There were a few sweet pepper jelly recipes. I examined them all, made some calculations and figured out the best possible recipe. Cooking requires math and logic. I applied all the logic I had to this event and worked out every calculation that I could to come up with a ratio of peppers, sugar, apple cider vinegar and pectin to make it just right. The problem I was most stumped on was the amount of peppers. The ratios didn’t quite match up. Some recipes used a number of peppers and a cup measurement of the other ingredients. Some recipes used a cup measurement of peppers but included other food items in the mix, like cranberries, sweet peppers, peaches and more.  So the amount of peppers needed for this recipe was really a guess. Then came the seed issue. I did not know how many seeds would be too many or too few when dealing with Tabasco peppers versus other peppers. How many seeds are in a small Tabasco pepper? While some recipes I saw stressed the use or non-use of seeds, others didn’t mention them at all.

The Ball brand Pectin that I used had their own recipe, with different peppers and a different ratio of sugars.

I ended up with a recipe that I thought would work the best; it is chemistry after all and if it really didn’t work out I could always pour it all back into a pot and rework it.

The recipe follows but first I need to warn you that when working with peppers, please wear food handling gloves to protect your hands from the oils.  When working with Tabasco peppers I recommend you wear a face mask and protective eyewear as well. I didn’t have any eye troubles but I found the oils were so strong, that I really would have benefitted from a face mask, the kind you’d wear politely in public when you have a cold or what you’d wear if you had allergies and had to cut the grass.  The oils floating in the air from the chopping process to the cooking process affected my throat and I had a coughing incident.  So beware when working with strong peppers.

I used a Ninja brand chopper. I don’t have a food processor since I generally don’t cook. I do make pesto and the Ninja works great for that so I do not think I need to invest in anything more.  If you have a food processor use it for your peppers.

Since the Tabasco peppers ripened at varying times, I did let them dry out in the sun during the past month.  Two days before the recipe day, I soaked them all together in regular filtered tap water to bring back some moisture. Then I removed the stems that remained on some and eliminated the ones that were just too dried out , blackened or molded after having sat out in the sun. This entire process was done with food handling gloves. You can get them at your local grocery or big-box store and I highly recommend it.  The gloves were coated in an oil that would have burned my hands.

I also learned that Tabasco peppers are hard to chop in the machine. A puree is most doable because of the pepper’s shape and size.  Be sure to puree them rather than chop.

*****  *****  *****

Here’s the recipe:

2 cups whole Tabasco Peppers

4 small sweet peppers

2 cups apple cider vinegar

6 cups sugar

2 pouches liquid pectin

Puree the peppers in a food processor. Then add sugar to a simmering pan and mix the peppers with the sugar until the puree is totally coated with sugar.  Pour in apple cider vinegar and bring to a low rolling boil. Boil for 10 minutes, then add pectin and stir. Boil once more for approx 30 minutes until the mixture thickens a bit. Remove from heat and skim seed and foam from the top of the jelly. Spoon into jars, cover with lids. Put jars into a canning pot, boil for 10 minutes, remove and set aside to cool. Makes 12 4-ounce jars.

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Now, when the jars were cooled I thought I should try some because these little jars were going to be gifts.

Oh, my heavens!! I thought my tongue was ruined for the rest of my life…the jelly was so spicy. After swishing milk in my mouth for a minute and deciding that didn’t cool my tongue enough, I took 2 tablespoons of goat cheese (one spoonful at a time) and held it in my mouth for several minutes to calm the heat. My boys were in hysterics as I went through this because it actually was funny; something I won’t forget for a long time.

So then, I noticed too that the jelly was rather runny. At that point I decided that I should try to thicken it with some more boil time.  I wasn’t sure what to do about the spice except for removing some of the seeds so I opened each jar and poured the concoction in to the pan. I skimmed off the seeds and put back 1 tablespoon just for effect, then low boiled the sauce for about 20 minutes, which seemed to thicken it a little bit.

My plan was to add more pectin but the boiling sauce put more oils in the air and I had a coughing fit that lasted a while.  My kids were smelling it too and one started coughing and had to leave the room. We were all in good humor about it (as in laughing hysterically for a long while) but it was rather annoying. Because of this I forgot to add pectin and went straight to ladling the pepper sauce into the canning jars.  While I was boiling the jelly, I sterilized the jars and lids in a boiling water bath in another pot.  With this done, I re-bathed the jars for 10 minutes, took them out to cool on the counter.  Each jar’s lid popped back into place when they cooled down so the canning process was successful.

One funny thing that happened when I was spooning the jelly into the jars was that I held a jar with my left hand and spooned into it using a ladle in my right.  Some of the hot jelly spilled over the jar and got onto my left hand and I responded by dropping the jar into the pan and licked my hand. Once again I burned my tongue. I did notice it wasn’t as spicy, though. Maybe removing the seeds was the key.

Anyway, I have a jar with my brother’s name on it. He claims to be able to eat the hottest, spiciest peppers around so he will have to try this jelly.  I will also give the remaining jars as gifts with a warning label on them and instructions to regift if the original recipient decides not to try it.

Will I try them?  Yes, I will; one night soon my family will have a cheese and cracker appetizer and I’ll pull out the jar of Tabasco pepper jelly to try.

My friend is still planning to come over and make pepper jelly with me soon. We will have to find another tried-and-true recipe with less heat, just for variety. Or maybe we’ll make a fruit jelly.  I’ll leave it up to her.

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