As anyone who lives in a small apartment knows, their compartmentalized nature can constrain your ambition in the kitchen. My own kitchen is so tiny that it basically looks like an afterthought the builders sledge-hammered into the side of the hallway. It’s hard to get excited about trying a recipe that takes a lot of preparation when I know I’m going to have to stack ingredients and cookware on top of my microwave to get everything when and where I need it, not to mention the fact that everything will need to be cleaned in a sink the size of a shoebox.
However, for the last week I’ve had the luxury of using my parents’ gigantic kitchen. They’ve also been out of town, so I’ve been able to cook undisturbed by complaints that I forgot to wipe off the glass cook top or that fumes from the hot peppers I’m cooking burn their eyes. I’m convinced that last complaint is completely psychosomatic, by the way.
This new-found freedom in the kitchen led me to try something I’ve wanted to try for a long time: home canning. I pitched the idea to a couple of friends, and they were all intrigued but apprehensive, worrying over how many ways a person could burn herself trying to sterilize and pressurize jars. Daunted but not discouraged, I figured I’d start off trying to make some jelly. Preserves are the easiest way to acclimate yourself to canning, since they don’t require processing in a boiling water canner.
I’ve wanted to try this ever since I found a recipe for jalapeno jelly. Most people don’t think of the spicy little capsicum as being an appropriate ingredient for jelly, but my adventurous palate and (as you might have guessed) love of hot peppers led me to want to try it out.
First, I had to assemble all the necessary ingredients. There aren’t many – jellies require only sugar, vinegar, pectin and (most of the time) fruit juice. This is a crucial difference between jellies and jams, which use whole fruit and don’t require added pectin since the whole fruit’s natural pectin seeps out during crushing and cooking. The jalapeno jelly I made includes minced peppers, but they don’t contain enough natural pectin to make adding it unnecessary. You can also use liquid pectin or dry pectin, depending on what kind of flavors you want your jelly to have. Liquid pectin can be added after cooking the peppers, vinegar and sugar; dry pectin has to be cooked with juice before the vinegar is added.
The second thing I had to do before cooking was sterilize the jars. All this involves is completely submerging the jars in a pot of water, boiling them (but not the lids or bands) for a few minutes and then turning the heat down so that the jars are kept hot until they’re ready to be filled. Throw the lids in once the water has cooled a little, but keep the bands at room temperature.
The third step is making the recipe. The one I used calls for:
4 cups of unsweetened cranberry juice
1 package of powdered pectin
5 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of seeded, minced green jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup of seeded, minced red jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup of white vinegar
Add the juice, pectin and sugar to a pot and bring it to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat, add the rest of the sugar and simmer for about 15 minutes. Some foam will accumulate on the top – skim that off and add the peppers. Simmer for about 20 minutes longer, then ladle the mixture into the hot jars, wiping the rims off so the lids will seal properly. Secure the lids and bands tightly. The jelly could take a couple of days to set. I let mine go for five days before eating it.