Sunday, September 14, 2008
Although we normally can count on the garden to keep producing vegetables until the first frost, this year it has shut down early. The last of the tomatoes have been turned into sauce, three sad-looking cucumbers are waiting to be dressed with ginger, Japanese vinegar and sugar, and a peck of peppers is sitting on the kitchen island waiting for me.
Pepper jelly is a delicous condiment that cries out to be eaten on club crackers with Philadelphia cream cheese. I have never seen it served any other way, but back in the days when appetites were dulled by winter meals of salt meat, cornbread and root vegetables, it must have served as a perker-upper as well as a valuable source of vitamins. One side of my family is Southern (Texas and South Carolina), and for years I searched for a recipe that would produce a jelly similar to Gramma and Great-Aunt Roberta's.
In southern California, of all places, I found a copy of White Trash Cooking, by Ernie Mickler. The recipe on page 127, after a little tweaking, resulted in the product of my childhood memories. A note on the jalapenos: If you want a jelly with some kick to it, grind them with the sweet peppers before cooking. If you want a jelly with a warm, elusive glow, put the jalapenos whole into the kettle with the ground sweet peppers and remove them just before you pour the jelly into the jars. Be warned; I like really hot jelly.
Geraldine's Green Pepper Jelly
2 cups ground sweet peppers
7 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups Heinz white vinegar
1 six ounce bottle or packet of liquid fruit pectin
2 small jalapenos (my addition and certainly optional)
few drops food coloring (optional)
Boil the peppers, sugar, and vinegar together for ten minutes, stirring constantly while it's boiling. Remove from the heat for twenty minutes. Return to the heat, add pectin and coloring if desired, and boil for three more minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit for five minutes before pouring into clean, hot jelly jars. You can either cover the jelly with paraffin in the old-fashioned way, or (since you have the kettle full of boiling water from sterilizing the jelly jars anyway), cap and seal the jars and process for ten minutes in a hot water bath.
Lift the jars carefully from the boiling water and set them on the kitchen counter where you've put a folded towel. Go drink a cup of coffee and listen to the "ping" of the lids sealing. Makes about ten half-pint jars. Use half-pints because when you bring this to parties people will ask you to please give them a jar.
Do not double this recipe. For some reason although the proportions of pepper, vinegar and pectin should work, they don't. If you have that many peppers, make two batches. Mr Mickler's recipe does not specify the additional boiling, stirring and sitting, but I've found that it makes a clearer jelly with less scum to be skimmed off.