I am not usually one for "semi-homemade" anything, but I take exception for one of the best hors d'oeurves of all time: store-bought pepper jelly slathered atop a block of cream cheese. The spicy sweetness of the jelly is a perfect match for the cool and tangy cheese, and it spreads gracefully atop many a cracker. But I'm willing to class up my act with some homemade jelly, and this verdant jalapeño and green bell pepper recipe from Southern Living's Little Jars, Big Flavors works even better than my usual grocery store grab.
Jellies can seem harder to make than jams: there's usually pectin involved, and issues like cloudiness and set matter more than with a pan of simmered berries. Pepper jellies, however, are an easy place to start. There's no juice to deal with, and the little pieces of pepper help distract from any murkiness. Plus, recipes like this one only take a couple of minutes on the stovetop, since the quantity of liquid pectin needed takes just a minute or so to set.
Why I picked this recipe: Given my strong feelings about pepper jelly appetizers, this was an easy pick.
What worked: The recipe was easy and streamlined, leading to a well-set jelly with moderate spice. In other words: excellent for entertaining, cream cheese or no.
What didn't: No problems at all.
Suggested tweaks: Adding a smidge (pinky-nail sized) of butter to the jam along with the lime juice and pectin will help to eliminate foam without skimming. If you want a hotter jelly, include the seeds from the jalapeños. I used Certo liquid pectin, and it worked well.
Reprinted with permission from Little Jars, Big Flavors: Small-batch jams, jellies, pickles, and preserves from the South's most trusted kitchen by the Editors of Southern Living Magazine and Virginia Willis. Copyright 2013. Published by Oxmoor House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 1/2 cup seeded and coarsely chopped jalapeño peppers (about 3 medium-size peppers)
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped green bell pepper
- 3 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar (5% acidity)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 (3-ounce) package liquid pectin
Process peppers in a food processor for 1 minute or until almost smooth, stopping to scrape down sides.
Bring pepper mixture, sugar, and vinegar to a rolling boil in a 4-quart stainless steel or enameled Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lime juice and pectin, and return to a rolling boil. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and let foam settle (about 1 minute). Skim off and discard any foam.
Spoon into clean canning jars or other heatproof, nonreactive containers with lids. Let cool 1 hour. Cover and chill. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.