With both the gardens and the Farmer’s Market in abundance these days, it’s become canning central around here. I’m on a personal mission to find a use for just about everything. Last weekend was the whole 50 pounds of tomatoes insanity which resulted in approximately 28 various-sized jars of Roasted Tomato Sauce and Blackened Salsa Ranchera. Delicious! There will be no careful hoarding of sauce this winter. The weekend was begun with a quick canning of heirloom tomatoes collected from the gardens. And yesterday was all about jellies resulting in more 125mL jars of assorted herb and vegetable concoctions than a family of two (plus cat) can possibly consume in a year.
We cut refined sugar from our diets more than 5 years ago and since then I have shied away from making pickles (this used to be my forte), jams, and jellies due in part to the massive quantity of sugar required to make jelly gel. I have tried making sugar-free, temporary herb jellies using agar-agar (a seaweed that gels like Jello) with little luck. Actually, the result of these experiments have tasted just fine with a little added sweetener or fruit juice but has to be eaten almost immediately — good enough if you’re looking for a little taste but useless when you’re harvesting herbs by the boatload!
About a year ago I came across low-methoxyl pectin in the health food store. The brand I bought is called Pomona Pectin and is a two-part system that comes in powdered form just like regular brand-name pectins. The cool thing about this kind of pectin is that it gels with very little sweetener — perfect for diabetics or people like me who are watching their sugar intake. I’ve been experimenting with the product and it’s revolutionizing my world. Experimenting has meant a bit of trial and error but I’m beginning to find the hang of it. I started out using more sweetener than I’d like but am slowly getting more daring and making jellies that have less sugar. I’ve been too afraid to use honey for jelly (but have in the past for jam) because I’m concerned it will make a “chewy” jelly so I’ve instead broken my own rule about sugar and am using raw, unprocessed cane sugar. Using honey and maple syrup is next on my list of experiments.
I came up with the following pepper jelly recipe yesterday afternoon. I grow a lot of hot pepper plants in a quest for beautiful, tasty varieties that will grow well in containers. But on a personal level I have cut most super spicy foods from my diet and so has my spouse. We always have more hot peppers at the end of the season than we can possibly ingest in a lifetime. I give them away but feel kind of sad letting them go without getting more than a quick taste for the sake of research. I thought it would be fun to try making a mixed pepper jelly that uses just a few of my own homegrown peppers so I can feel like I got some personal use from them without destroying my digestive tract. I’ve looked at a lot of pepper jelly recipes in the past but they often rely on just peppers or some kind of super sweet twist. This version was inspired by the pepper/onion/lime juice flavors often brought together in salsa. I chopped all of the ingredients up really small and left them in the jelly but you can strain some of it out before jarring if you prefer a clearer jelly. We are loving this on crackers with cheese but I am planning to pull the jelly out with Mexican-style egg dishes like my personal favorite huevos divorciados.
Notes on using low-methyloxyl pectin: You will first need to mix up the calcium phosphate solution with water before you begin. Mix according to package directions and store in the fridge in a lidded jar.
When making jelly you will need about 1 tsp of the low-methoxyl pectin powder and 1 tsp of the calcium phosphate solution per cup of fruit or veggie liquid. My recipe came out to about 3 1/2 cups.
Mixing the low-methoxyl pectin powder with your choice in sweetener will make adding it to the mix much easier.
Notes about sterilization: Pre-wash your jars with sudsy water and sterilize both the jars and lids in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off but keep the jars and lids hot until the moment you fill them.
Place the jars into the water bath while it is still cool. Plopping cold jars into boiling water will make them explode.
Zippy Mixed Pepper and Lime Jelly
- Approximately 3 or 4 medium/large sweet bell peppers – I used a mix of red and purple. The goal here is to end up with about 2 cups of chopped pepper.
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 3 hot peppers (Quantity depends on the heat of the peppers and the desired heat of the jelly. I used a hot variety called ‘Golden Nugget’)
- 1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1 cup cane sugar
- 3 1/2 tsp low-methoxyl pectin
- 3 1/2 tsp calcium phosphate solution
1. Remove the stems and seeds of the sweet peppers and loosely chop with a knife. Pop into a food processor and whiz until finely chopped.
2. Finely dice the hot peppers. Reserve some of the seeds if you prefer a hot and spicy jelly. I would advise that you wear rubber gloves to protect your hands (and later your eyes) from the pepper juice.
3. Measure out 2 cups of finely chopped sweet pepper and place in a pot with the diced onions, hot peppers, vinegar, and lime juice. Bring to a boil on high heat while gently stirring.
4. Measure out the cane sugar and low-methoxyl pectin powder and mix together in a bowl. Pour the mix into the pot and stir constantly with a whisk until the mix is dissolved and all lumps are gone.
5. Reduce the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for about 10 minutes.
6. Bring the temperature back up to high and boil the mixture hard for 1 minute.
7. Quickly mix in the calcium phosphate solution.
8. Remove from the heat and pour the jelly into hot, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims to remove any sticky residue.
9. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.