Last year, one of my cooking goals was to learn how to make jelly. Not freezer jelly, as that didn’t hold a challenge for me. No, I wanted to learn how to can. Neither strawberries nor blackberries were in season. I suppose I could have made apple jelly, but I was looking for something that I could give as a small Christmas gift, and I failed to see how homemade apple jelly was going to knock anyone’s socks off. Then I had my “Ah-ha!” moment – the holidays meant parties, with parties come food, and what was a commonplace offering on the hors d’oeuvres table? Cream cheese and hot pepper jelly! I would make hot pepper jelly. Jalapeno and serrano peppers seemed ubiquitous in all grocery stores, so ingredient availability wasn’t going to be an issue. The only hiccup in my plan was the lack of a recipe, which really was not an issue at all, as hot pepper jelly recipes are quite abundant, in cookbooks and online. So, I started with a basic recipe: liquid pectin, sugar, vinegar and peppers. I bought half-pint canning jars, and using the largest stock pot I have, I meticulously prepared them according to the directions. I didn’t want my first foray into canning to result in anyone’s demise. Anyway, most hot pepper jelly recipes seemed to use green bell peppers along with the hot peppers, so that’s what I used. Well, the actual process went swimmingly, but the color of the jelly left something to be desired. It was somewhere between brown and dull green – I didn’t think it would be included on anyone’s party menu. What could I do to make it look more festive, or at the very least, edible? I remembered that many of the recipes suggested adding green food coloring, so that’s what I did. Now I had pepper jelly that looked like it had been made at the nuclear plant – it was fluorescent green. At this point, there was nothing left to do, so I filled my little jars, processed them according to directions, and I waited for them to cool. Once I spooned the startling green jelly atop of a block of cream cheese, it didn’t look horrible. The saving grace was the taste – it was delicious, so much better than any packaged jelly, fluorescent green or not, I had a winner.
By the next day, however, I was already thinking of other possibilities. Since my freezer had about 15 bags of cranberries, I decided to make cranberry hot pepper jelly. I decided to adjust my recipe; instead of a green bell pepper, I would use red. Since red bell peppers tend to be sweeter, I knew, or at least hoped, the addition of the cranberries would balance out the sweetness. And, I wanted to amplify the heat factor, so I used all serranos rather than a mix of serranos and jalapenos. I kept the sugar and vinegar ratio the same. As you can see by the picture, the color was gorgeous, a beautiful holly red – perfect for the holidays. And, the taste? Even better than the fluorescent original.
If you are like me, and you’ve hoarded bags and bags of cranberries, this is a perfect and delicious way to use them.
Cranberry-Hot Pepper Jelly Printable recipe
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 packet of Sure-jell Certo (liquid fruit pectin)
- 2 ½ cups chopped red bell peppers
- 2 cups chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
- ½ cup of seeded and chopped serrano peppers
- 7 ½ cups sugar
Prepare jars according to manufacturers jars.
In a large pot, combine all ingredients except for Certo. Bring to a hard boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add Certo. Ladle into prepared jars. Seal jars according to the directions, boiling in hot water for 5 minutes. Jars will last up to a year, unopened. Once opened, store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Spoon over cream cheese and serve with crackers.
Use as glaze on baked ham.
Fill appetizer-sized pastry shells with jelly and a piece of brie. Briefly heat in 350 degree oven until cheese is oozing.