I dearly love this recipe. This is one of my first “my” recipes. I would make jars of this and we would use it at home and my husband would give away jars of it to his buddies. And, while it is not a big deal, it was one of the first things that I ever created that made me feel like I was good at cooking.
Also, jelly making is sort of a lost art. I like the very idea of it. Jelly is kind of like pie in that way. When you make it, you feel like you are connecting yourself to a bygone era.
You might wonder if habanero jelly is, frankly, a bad idea. After all, habanero peppers are ridiculous, really. Peppers are ranked by their heat in something called Scoville units, named after the pharmacist who first devised the measurement. While generalizing about the pungency of peppers can be misleading given that any two peppers of the same variety can have very different levels of “heat,” one can generally say that habaneros rank wildly higher than most peppers in Scoville Heat Units. For instance, jalapenos get a score of about 2,500 units. Habaneros garner a score between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville Heat Units. Therefore, for most purposes, habaneros are practically a gimmick. No offense to people who love them, but they are brutal. I have a bottle of habanero powder that I use only for scaring squirrels away from my tomato plants. One half teaspoon of the stuff made a batch of chili inedible.
But, when you add 5 cups of sugar to them, all of a sudden you have one of those delightful culinary contrasts. It is sweet and spicy. It is cool and hot. It is just delicious. And it is not painful, in any way. My husband eats it straight on Triscuits and even on peanut butter sandwiches. But it is best served on goat cheese or cream cheese on crackers. It is the easiest nibble in the world to have on the table in 10 seconds for guests, if you have a stash of the jelly in your pantry. It would also make a fantastic glaze for pork, I think.
Give this a shot. It doesn’t matter if you have never made jelly before. This is a great starting place. Basically, you chop up some habaneros…enough to make a packed ½ cup. You are welcome to use more, but don’t blame me if it makes people cry. I keep my habaneros in the freezer. They are very easy to handle frozen. Do not thaw them, just put on your rubber gloves and start cleaning out the seeds and stems. (Also, they have some magical anti-frost property that fascinates me. I hope some really smart person is studying that.) Meticulously clean all of your knives, cutting boards, and your hands as you go. Please.
Precap: You whiz up the peppers in the food processor with vinegar and an apple and then you heat that mixture with sugar until you have a hot syrup. Next add pectin, which is a food gelling agent. It is found naturally in many fruits, including apples. I use Certo. You will need 1-½ packets of the gel. Eyeball the half packet amount. Make sure you check the date on the package. If it is even close to expiring, do not buy it. Old pectin will not set the jelly and you will be (as I have been) very irritated. After some additional cooking, the jelly is ready to go. Simply put it in jars and seal them. Placing the jars upside down for a spell and then inverting them causes a vacuum seal that renders the jelly safe to store in the pantry. This is not the case for all preserved foods and is particular to high acid mixtures such as this. Do not use this method for any other purposes. But, boom, that is all it takes. Let’s go.
Jars: This recipe uses 8 oz. jars with lids and screw bands. You can buy a set of 12 for about 10 dollars. Any extras are great for kids drinking glasses, piggy banks, dressing shakers, etc.
Rubber Gloves: Habaneros are ridiculously hot peppers. If you get pepper juice on your hands and rub it on your eyes (or any other sensitive parts) or, God forbid, touch a child’s owie or eyes, you will never forgive yourself or me. Habaneros are far hotter than jalapenos. This is not a good recipe for kids, by the way. The combination of nuclear hot peppers and boiling syrup are not suitable for the small set. In fact, this is a project for a day when they are no where near your kitchen.
Pots and Pans: A large stock pot for sterilizing jars and another saucepan for boiling the jelly.
Dish Towels: You will need many dish towels or paper towels for this. You will need to do a lot of tidying up after you handle the peppers. You need fresh, clean towels to dry the jars and lids. You need another one for the surface that you are using to fill and invert the jars. And you will need yet another fresh, clean towel for cleaning any sticky mess off of the finished jars.
A ladle: For dipping the jelly into the jars.
½ cup habanero pepper, seeds and stems removed
1 apple, peeled and cut up
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
5 cups sugar
1-½ packets liquid pectin (one pouch plus one-half pouch)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize six 8 oz. jars. Leave the jars in the water until you are ready to use them. You will need tongs or other long grabbing device to remove them from the hot water.
Place the habanero peppers and apple in a food processor. Add the vinegar and process until fine.
In a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, combine the processed peppers and apples, water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute (it takes about 15 minutes to get it to simmering and an additional minute to get it to boiling on my stove). Take abundant care at this stage. You need to be present to adjust your stove as the syrup bubbles. It can quickly boil over which is not only exceptionally dangerous, but very messy.
Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the lids and screw bands in a small bowl. Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
After the syrup has boiled for one minute, remove it from heat and stir in the pectin. Then, return to heat and boil one minute longer.
Remove the mixture from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Using a wooden spatula or other tool, skim off any foam or white film that accumulates on top. Use a light hand when doing this, as a large proportion of the peppers tries to get stuck in the foam. Removing too much of the pepper bits will reduce the heat of the jelly. Stir in chopped rosemary.
Ladle the jelly into sterilized jars. Wipe the rims of the jars and dry the lids and screw bands. Seal the jars. Place sealed jars upside down on a towel. Leave them inverted for approximately 20 minutes and then turn them upright. To distribute the peppers and rosemary equally, turn the jars occasionally until the jelly sets.
Beware: If the jelly sets entirely while the jars are upside down, you have a problem. I have done this. I ran to drop off my kids at camp and left the jars upside down. By the time I returned, they were setting and I was barely able to get it all back down to the bottom of the jar. Lest you think I am a moron, you should know that the jelly can take from hours to days to set up. This batch took 3 hours flat. When you notice that the bits in the jars are not floating up and down when you turn the jar over, you may just leave them upright.