My best friend Jo asked if I’d like to go to St Jacobs Farmers’ Market with her. I didn’t realize she meant at 6:30 am – before the sun. I made it, more or less. I had a few things to pick up, just a few peppers, maybe seven or eight, to do a vegetarian entrée for my family’s Thanksgiving, ((If you want the stuffed peppers recipe – let me know!)) but ended up buying way more than I need.
Jo also bought tons of peppers, and planned to make red pepper jelly with them, and in a fit of (over?)enthusiasm I decided I would do the same. I’ve never canned anything before in my life.
Below is what occurred, including the recipe for red pepper jelly that was excellent when Jo made it. Footnotes provide irreverent commentary and additional advice.
Step One: Have an Awesome Best Friend
I was going to say that you can’t have Jo, ’cause she’s already my BFF, but she’s a really friendly person. She can probably handle several dozen BFFs without batting an eye. When we were at Nuit Blanche ((It was pretty awesome. I hope you were there.)) last weekend some guy lost his friends and announced it to all who were near. Jo offered, but he wandered off. That guy totally missed out.
This recipe and my market adventure all happened because of Jo. If you’re not best friends with Jo, you can use your own best friend and this recipe to make your own (hopefully) awesome jelly.
Pro-tip: Jo is awesome. Also, as this is time one of me making this stuff, I’m clearly not a pro. But you will benefit from my errors with these tips. For sure.
Step Two: Have Canning Supplies
As I mentioned, I’ve never done this before. I went to Canadian Tire ((Canadian Tire tends to have surly staff, so if you know of a friendlier place to go, by all means do — and tell me, so I can go there next time!)) and purchased a dozen 500 ml and a dozen 125 ml cans. This recipe makes ten cups, which for me filled x jars.
- Mason jars
- Caps & lids
- Jarring tongs (so helpful!)
- Regular kitchen tongs ((Jarring tongs for the jars, regular kitchen tongs for the lids. You can also get special magnetic canning picker upper things, but hey, this was my first time.))
Sterilize these things. WikiHow has great instructions, but I basically washed everything, then boiled the jars and lids for ten minutes. After which I placed the jars upside down on a clean dishcloth until I was ready for them.
Pro-tip: Sterilize everything just before you start making the jelly, so you know it’s safe to funnel in once you’re ready to. Keeping everything super clean is key with preserves. I learned that on the Internet.
Step Three: Have Ingredients
Yeah, the importance factor on this step is way up there. Without ingredients, you pretty much just have an awesome best friend and some empty jars. You could try canning your BFF, but s/he may object to that. YMMV.
If you’re not canning human remains, you will need:
- 2 lb red peppers
- 2 cups white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 chili peppers
- 10 cups white sugar
- 6 tsp powdered citrus pectin
American measurements: they’re awkward, I know, but that’s how I got them. For some reason I still cook in Imperial, despite it being an American adaptation of a royal measurement, after they rejected royalty. Go with it.
I cheated and used sea salt with chili flakes in it because I received a jar of it for Giftmas a while ago and haven’t yet had the chance to use it. This seemed an appropriate usage.
I have no idea what citrus pectin is. I couldn’t find that at either my local grocery store nor at Canadian Tire, so I used normal pectin and added a squirt of lemon juice. I hope that doesn’t make it suck.
Pro-tip: This is about 8 peppers. When I asked Jo how many peppers 2lbs is she wasn’t sure. My scale only gives me ounces and grams. Two pounds is about 32 oz. My scale crapped out after measuring one pepper, so I used it as a standard, 4 oz. I guestimated eight, then threw in another one because I messed up on the next step.
Step Four: Put on Bob Marley
Pro-tip: Your Best Of CD will have it. Don’t worry.
Step Five: Make it into Jelly
This is where the real jellying business begins.
Halve the red peppers, cut out the seeds, chop it finely, toss it in a blender or food processor until it’s really, really finely chopped. ((It looked kind of like a chunky puree when I did it. So I called Jo and asked if that was ok, she said it was all good. That’s what BFFs are for.)) Toss these things into a large nonreactive pot. ((I used a large non-stick pot. I think that’s what it means.)) Ditto the chilies.
Pro-tip: Blend ’em at one pepper at a time. Not having blended anything in a really, really long time, I casually tossed three or four peppers in, filling it up, and creating an awful mess when it wouldn’t blend properly, and I had to pull odd bits out. So, don’t do that.
Add in the rest of the ingredients except the pectin. Yes, that does seem like an awful lot of sugar. Apparently that’s ok. But do not add the pectin yet – that happens way later. You’ll see.
It will look like soup. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Let it do that for a minute or two, then bring the heat back down to a simmer. Set your timer for one hour, stirring occasionally. When that hour’s up: it’s pectin time.
Add the pectin, increase the heat and bring it to a boil for two minutes. Skim the surface to remove the scum. ((Scum is the weird foamy stuff at the top.)) Remove the pan from heat. Ladle the jelly into the warmed sterilized jars.
Step Six: Seal It (Not the Arctic Kind)
Once again, WikiHow has great instructions – see the section on Water Bathing, specifically.
Seal the jars tight, but not so tight you damage them.
Get a very large pot, fill it with water so that if you set the jar inside, there is an inch or two of water above the top of the jar. Then you boil the water, and set the cans inside – do not stack them, you can repeat this as many times as necessary until they’ve all been airlocked.
Depending on your altitude – I don’t know why, but apparently this matters – you boil it for ten to fifteen minutes or longer. The jars you bought will tell you how long for certain. If you don’t know your altitude: Google it.
Step Seven: Wait
Yeah, this part’s less fun. It seems like so much work (it’s not), so much anticipation (it is), but you should wait two weeks before opening it an actually enjoying it. Something about it setting.
I just made this stuff last night, so I haven’t tasted it yet, but I will. If it sucks, I’ll put a warning at the top. If it’s awesome, oh baby, you’ll know. ((And if it sucks it will totally be my fault. Jo mixes and matches recipes when she does things like this because she’s a proper chef (if not officially). So this may not be exactly how she makes it, but it shouldn’t be too far off.))
Update: I put in the wrong kind of pectin – liquid instead of crystals. Folks: this matters. The jelly set, but not as firm as I’d like it to be.
Update II: It is delicious. Sweet – it could have used another hot pepper or two, but still delicious. Thanks Jo!