Harvest Time: Pepper Jelly

            Yesterday I made my annual batch (actually, batches!) of pepper jelly.

            When I first got out of graduate school in the 1990s, I canned on and off all summer. In fact, I sold jams, jellies, and vinegars in my mother’s antique shop in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

            In recent years, however, my canning has gone downhill. I still make jam here and there as I can, but I don’t generally process it since processing takes time—something of which I seem to have less and less as the months and years flow by.

Generally, my jam gets stored in the refrigerator in large jars until I need it for family use. Sometimes it’s not even in jars: when I got ready to make the pepper jelly yesterday, I discovered that my large Dutch oven was in the downstairs refrigerator, filled with half-made strawberry jam from early July. I had to finish cooking the batch of jam before I could move on to my jelly.

Despite my retreat from canning, I still process pepper jelly every September. I have friends who would be hugely disappointed if they didn’t receive annual jars filled with this colorful, zesty concoction. And I enjoy the rhythm of my once-a-year jelly-making day.

            Yesterday was no exception. I sang along with the radio as my mother and I chopped peppers. I was extra careful with the jalapeños and didn’t even burn myself! Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Mercer kept us company and kept us chopping.

            The actual jelly-making doesn’t take long, but as long as I’m processing the jars I like to do it right, making sure that they’re sterilized, filling them with care, and gently boiling them after I fill them.

            (Readers who would like to know more about home canning should read the USDA publications on this topic, available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html.)

            The end result of yesterday’s process is the flavor of early fall in a jar. Every year I think I’m going to use the pepper jelly in some new way, but generally I restrict myself to dabbing it over a schmear of cream cheese on a cracker. I never tire of this simple appetizer.

                                                                      —  Tinky


Tinky’s Pepper Jelly


3 medium bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped (I prefer red, but any color will do.)

2 2-inch jalapeño or cayenne peppers, seeded and chopped (more if you’re adventurous!)

1-1/2 cups distilled vinegar

6-1/2 cups sugar

1 dab sweet butter

6 ounces (2 pouches) liquid pectin

            Blend the peppers with 1 cup of the vinegar in a blender or food processor. Pour the blended mixture into a large non-aluminum pot, and add all the remaining ingredients except the pectin. Bring the mixture to a full, rolling boil; then stir in the pectin.

            Boil the jelly for 1 minute, stirring constantly, and remove it from the heat. Stir the mixture for 5 minutes as it begins to cool to distribute the chopped peppers evenly; then ladle it into sterilized jars. Place the jars in a boiling-water bath, and process them for 5 minutes. Makes at least 5 to 6 cups.

            From Tinky’s Pudding Hollow Cookbook. Copyright 2004, Merry Lion Press. For more recipes and information, visit Tinky’s web site, www.merrylion.com.

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7 Responses to “Harvest Time: Pepper Jelly”

  1. Dawn says:

    I just made this exact recipe for pepper jelly this weekend and it taste and smells very vingerary. Did I not boil it long enough? Can I reuse the jelly I have alread made and reboil it? Thank you for your thoughts, I hate to waste 8 jars of jelly.

  2. tinkyweisblat says:

    Hi, Dawn–I’m so sorry to hear about this problem! I’m a bit flummoxed by your jelly situation since I make this jelly every fall (I often add more of the peppers, vinegar, and sugar, but always in proportion) and I’ve never had it turn out tasting particularly vinegary. I know that the flavor can vary depending on the peppers used; sometimes they’re very potent (and/or very spicy!), sometimes not., depending on factors like rainfall and sunshine. I don’t mean to be insulting, but are you sure you measured the vinegar correctly? More boiling probably wouldn’t do the trick since as you can see there’s not a lot of boiling involved. Did you use distilled vinegar (the white kind)? Cider vinegary might impart a different taste.

    You could certainly try re-cooking it with a bit more sugar and/or pepper, but you might need more pectin in that case (I would use only one additional pouch). What region of the country do you live in? Next fall when I get ready to make my next batch, I’ll get back in touch with you if you like, and we can go over the process step by step.


  3. Dawn says:

    I just wanted to let you know, I made another batch of the pepper jelly
    and it came out fantastic. I used your recipe with the white vinager instead of the other recipe calling for Cider Vinager and it was perfect.

  4. tinkyweisblat says:

    That’s just great, Dawn. Thanks so much for persevering–and for letting me know!

  5. abary9 says:

    I need to try your pepper jelly.

  6. Marie Clements says:

    I am wondering if it is possible to make larger batches. I notice many jelly recipes say not to double them, but i’m not sure why….do you know???

  7. tinkyweisblat says:

    Dawn and Abary9, I’m glad!

    Marie, I have definitely doubled this recipe; I’m not sure I’d do more than that. You don’t have to double the pectin, however; two pouches will still do.

    As to why you’re not supposed to double in general, I think that it’s because jelly and jam take a lot longer to cook in greater quantities, and it’s easy to mess up the consistency in that case.