We love jalapeño chili peppers. We use them in so much of our cooking that I’ve taken to even pickling my own. For the last year I’ve been searching for a recipe for jalapeño jelly that didn’t rely on food dye or commercial pectin, but to no avail. So, with some experimentation, I’ve come up with the following recipe which uses apple jelly made from Granny Smith apples (the tart, green apples) as a base, and cranberries for color. Granny Smith apples (and cranberries too) have plenty of natural pectin, so no additional pectin is needed to make the jelly gel.
Tart green apples have more pectin in them than sweet apples, so use tart green apples for this recipe, earlier in the season the better. This is especially true if you are not also using cranberries, as cranberries have their own natural pectin as well.
- 4 lbs of tart apples (e.g. Granny Smith), unpeeled, chopped into big pieces, including the cores
- 6 jalapeño chili peppers, sliced in half lengthwise, the seeds and ribs removed from 3 of them (for mildly hot jelly. If you want a hotter jelly leave the seeds and ribs in all of them.)
- 1 green bell pepper (or red if you want the color), seeds and ribs removed, chopped
- 1 cup cranberries (optional but recommended, will help with color and with setting)
- 3 cups water
- 3 cups white vinegar
- 3 1/2 cups sugar (7/8 cup for each cup of juice)
- One 6-quart pan (Stainless steel or copper with stainless steel)
- A candy thermometer
- A large fine mesh sieve (or several layers of cheesecloth, or a muslin cloth jelly bag)
- 4-5 half-pint canning jars
1 Combine the apple pieces, apple cores (needed for their pectin content), jalapenos, bell pepper, cranberries (if using), water and vinegar in a large pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low, simmering for about 20 minutes, or until the apples, cranberries, and peppers are soft. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan where it might burn. Use a potato masher to mash up the apple pieces to the consistency of slightly runny apple sauce. If the mash is too thick, add more water.
2 Spoon the mash into a fine mesh sieve, muslin cloth, or a couple layers of cheesecloth, suspended over a large bowl. Leave to strain for several hours (even overnight). If you want a clear jelly, do not squeeze or force through the mesh. Just let it drip. If you want a fuller flavor jelly and don't mind that the result won't be clear, you can force some of the pulp through the mesh. If your pulp is too thick, and nothing is coming out, you can add an extra 1/2 cup or cup of water to it. You want to end up with about 4 cups of juice.
3 Measure the juice, then pour into a large, wide, thick-bottomed pot. Add the sugar (7/8 a cup for each cup of juice). Heat gently, stirring to make sure the sugar gets dissolved and doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
4 Bring to a boil. Cook for 10-15 minutes, using a spoon to skim off the surface scum. Continue to boil until a candy thermometer shows that the temperature has reached 220-222°F (8-10°F above the boiling point at your altitude). Additional time needed for cooking can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on the amount of water, sugar, and apple pectin in the mix.
Left: Jelly is too runny. Right: Jelly is wrinkling when pushed, which means it's ready.
Candy thermometers aren't always the most reliable indicators of whether or not a jelly is done. Another way to test is put a half teaspoonful of the jelly on a chilled (in the freezer) plate. Allow the jelly to cool a few seconds, then push it with your fingertip. If it wrinkles up, it's ready.
5 Pour jelly into sterilized jars* to within 1/4" from the top and seal.
Makes approx. 4 half-pint jars.
Serve with cream cheese on crackers.
*There are several ways to sterilize your jars for canning. You can run them through a short cycle on your dishwasher. You can place them in a large pot (12 quart) of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don't touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or you can rinse out the jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes.
Note that jalapeno jelly can be pretty "hot" if you have included a lot of the seeds in your cooking. The fat molecules in the cream cheese absorb the hot capsaicin of the jalapenos, reducing the heat, but leaving the flavor of the chiles. This is also why sour cream tastes so good with spicy Mexican food.