Kitchen Wit and Wisdom: Make some spicy gifts

Cathi Litzenberger says it's not too early to get started on Christmas gifts of the homemade variety

The other day I was wandering around a mall and was astonished to see some Christmas stuff out already! Wow, so early?  But then I got to thinking about it, and if you’re into making homemade canned gifts, now is the time to give it more than a thought. For instance, I like making pepper jellies, antipasto, salsas, chutneys, and smoked salmon to add to family gift packages, and if I don’t do it now, when?

Now is the time when peppers and vegetables are in abundance so let’s get at it. I’ll start with pepper jellies and will share a couple of good recipes today. Hot jellies are perfect served with cream cheese on any kind of cracker because the fat molecules in the cream cheese absorb the hot capsaicin of the jalapenos, reducing the heat, but leaving the flavour of the chilies. They also add nice flavour to marinades and basting glazes. The jalapeno chilies I used for these batches were fairly large.

Always remember to wear rubber disposable gloves when working with any hot peppers. It’s amazing how HOT the oil from these peppers can be. The first batch I made, I didn’t wear gloves and my fingers and hands burned for nearly four hours (not to mention you can’t touch ANY parts of your body or you will burn there, too). I could not wash the stuff off and even the next day, my fingers were sensitive to hot water. Just a warning!

Spicy Red-Pepper Jelly

3/4 cup chopped red habanero (or other hot red pepper) 

1 red bell pepper, remove stem and seeds

1-1/2 cups white vinegar

6 cups sugar

8 ounces liquid Certo (2 packets)

1 teaspoon red food colouring

Put on rubber gloves to remove stems from hot red peppers. Roughly chop (seeds and all) and put in blender with vinegar. Chop red bell pepper roughly. Place in blender with vinegar. Blend well until small pieces remain.

Pour into large stainless steel pot. Add sugar and mix well. Bring mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, strain through sieve and return liquid back to pot. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add Certo and food colouring quickly.

Put into 6 (1/2 pint) jars and seal. Seal with the hot water bath method. To do this, put into a large boiler with rack on bottom, cover with 1-2 inches of water and boil for 5 minutes. Remove to rack to cool.

NOTE: You can add finely chopped peppers to each jar prior to sealing, if desired.

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

13 Jalapeno chili peppers, 4 whole and 9 seeded

2 medium or 1 large bell pepper (either red, yellow, or orange pepper)

1-1/2 cups of vinegar (white or cider)

1/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

6 cups granulated sugar

4 ounces liquid pectin (Certo Liquid Pectin ONLY, other brands do not work well; see Comment #4 below)

Food colouring (green or red), optional

Slip on rubber gloves before handling hot peppers. Remove stems from all 13 jalapenos; discard stems. Leave 4 jalapenos whole and remove seeds from the other 9 jalapenos. Chop the 4 WHOLE jalapenos very fine or purée in blender, then add remainder of the seeded jalapenos; chop medium to fine.

Remove stems and seeds from bell peppers; add to blender. Add vinegar to blender to help chop and mix together. Purée until coarsely ground and small chunks remain.

In a large non-reactive pot over medium-high heat, add blended pepper mixture; bring to a hard boil. BOIL FOR A FULL 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and granulated sugar. Place back on medium-high heat and bring back to a hard boil. Add liquid pectin and food colouring; again bring back to a HARD BOIL for ONE FULL MINUTE. Skim off any foam (scum) that develops with a spoon. Remove from heat.

Have hot sterile 1/2-pint jars and lids ready.  Carefully and quickly strain hot jelly into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Add some of the chopped peppers if desired for more colour; mix in jars with spoon or fork. Wipe any spilled jelly from jar rims. Centre lids on top of jars and tighten screw bands securely, but not as tightly as possible. Place in hot water canner and boil for 5 minutes. Remove; allow to cool. Test seal, after cooling, with finger. If middle pops up when pressed, jar is not sealed.

Enjoy with cream cheese on your favourite cracker.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.