Not having grown up in the south, pepper jelly was never part of the picture in my life. In fact, it was only pretty recently that I was introduced to it, but I fell hard. Pepper jelly is super versatile, and I’ve used it equally for savory and pastry applications. You can always adjust the amount and depth of heat in the jelly depending on what peppers you use.
Technically speaking this isn’t a jelly, it’s a marmalade since it has small pieces of fruit in it. Yeah I know what you’re thinking, but peppers are actually a fruit. Yup, even jalapenos. Whatever you call it, pepper jelly has as many variations as it does cooks who make it. Although I’m sure some readers might disagree, in all of the recorded history of pepper jelly, it seems it wasn’t popularized until the late 1970s. Now to me this sounds like it can’t possibly be right but I did what I’d consider some solid research and I haven’t found anything more conclusive. If someone out in the DFK nation has an earlier recorded recipe I would LOVE to see it! Old recipes are the best.
Just to get this out of the way, yes, most of the recipes you see for pepper jelly feature a bright green product. That can be easily achieved with a little green food coloring, I’ve just chosen not to use any.
To properly set your preserve you’re going to need pectin. I use a commercial pectin, which speeds the cooking process and preserves the brightness and natural acidity of the produce being used. For some more in-depth talk on pectin and the science of making jam, I highly recommend you check out my post – food science: fruit preserves.
With most every recipe of jam or jelly, monitoring the cooking temperature of the jelly is the first benchmark of knowing when it is ready to set. It must reach a minimum temperature of around 221F/105C to have the potential to set as a gel. While it’s easy enough to use a thermometer to check the temp., a jelly at 221F/105C doesn’t always indicate a finished product, so it’s always a good idea to perform a “set test.” A set test uses a small sample of the cooked preserve and rapidly cools it to see if it has the properties of a finished gel.
Here’s the thing: pepper jelly isn’t most every jam or jelly. For one, peppers have a very small amount of natural pectin (effectively none) so there’s a large amount of pectin in this recipe compared to others. There’s also a very large amount of sugar in comparison to other preserve recipes, partially to balance out the heat from the jalapeno peppers and partially to help the pectin in creating a product that will actually set instead of turning into a pepper flavored syrup.
Because of these differences, the cooking time for the pepper jelly is very brief, not based on temperature but rather time, and requires constant stirring. All of this adjustment in method is to prevent the pepper jelly from burning, which it will do quickly if left alone!
The last note on this process has to do with what you’re putting your jelly into. Ball jars are the gold standard, and come in all kinds of different sizes and varieties. I like to prep them by running them in the dishwasher alone and leaving them in there until I’m ready to pour my jelly into them (don’t wash the heat activated lid! Just the jars and the rims). If you aren’t concerned with preserving your…preserve…for an extended period of time then any heat-safe container will work for the finished jelly.
400g bell peppers (100% combined peppers)
195g jalapeno peppers (100% combined peppers)
235g apple cider vinegar (39%)
200g sugar A (168% combined sugar)
50g pectin (8%)
800g sugar B (168% combined sugar)
Before getting started, prepare your jars and place a sheet pan or plate in the freezer to use for a set test.
Finely dice and combine all of the peppers. Avid and observant DFKers may notice a new cutting board in use today. This was a custom made piece (full sheet pan size – 18×24″ – with risers and handles on the side – maybe they’ll call it the Chef Scott Special??) by Wade Brothers Carpentry. I highly recommend one!
Combine sugar A and the pectin.
Combine the peppers and apple cider vinegar in a sauce pot. Add the sugar and pectin mixture while whisking to avoid lumps.
The pepper mixture will be extremely thick, but don’t worry! Cook the mixture over medium heat, with gentle, constant stirring, until it comes to a boil. Once the mixture has come to a boil, add the remaining sugar, stirring well.
Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium high heat while stirring constantly to avoid burning the jam on the bottom of the pot. Boil the mixture for 1min. and then remove from the heat to test.
To perform the set test, take a small amount of the jelly mix and place it on the frozen pan or plate. Let it cool for a minute or two in the fridge and test the texture. If it has the consistency of syrup, it isn’t ready, but once it begins to hold its form and just barely wrinkle at the edges, you know the jelly will set when cooled.
Let the jelly sit for a minute or two and skim the foam from the top.
Pour the hot pepper jelly into the cleaned and dry jars, almost to the rim. Seal them with the lid immediately.
Place all of the filled jars upside down into a stockpot lined with a tea towel to keep direct heat off of the jars. Fill the stockpot with water until it comes about halfway up the jars. Bring the water to a simmer and place a lid on the stockpot. Simmer the jars for about 10min, then remove them from the heat and let them cool.