Transforming apples and lemons into a tangy, shimmering amber-colored jelly, flecked with bright bits of green and red peppers, is a fascinating lesson in the chemistry of fruits and vegetables as well as an economical way of making Christmas gifts well in advance.
A spicy vegetable jelly, made from a mixture of chopped jalapeno chiles, sweet red and green peppers, and tart chopped cilantro leaves is a delicious condiment to have on hand to serve with grilled meats such as lamb, veal or pork. By now, surely everyone also knows that a jar of hot pepper jelly can be spooned over a 1/2 pound block of cream cheese and that the combination is a terrific spread for crackers.
Mix Until Mushy
Pepper jelly begins with apples, which are chopped and cooked together with lemons and water until the mixture is mushy. Pectic substances, found in the cell walls of the ripe fruits, are released by simmering. Together with sugar cooked to 222 degrees (a candy or meat thermometer should be used to verify temperature), this natural pectin is the substance that causes jelly to gel.
The food processor is an invaluable aid in jelly making because it processes the apples to chopped consistency in less than 2 minutes. While the apples are cooking, the jalapenos and green peppers also can be processor-chopped (or cut into 1-inch wide strips and sliced).
When chopping the peppers, which are a watery food, it is important to use a dry processor container and blade. Remove the cores and seeds and cut the pepper shells into 1-inch pieces. Use half-second pulses to chop peppers to the desired consistency. Take care not to overprocess peppers or permit the machine to run continuously, or peppers can become pureed.
HOT PEPPER JELLY WITH CILANTRO
4 pounds green apples (8 medium)
6 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup vinegar
3 cups sugar
2 medium jalapeno chiles
2 green peppers
2 sweet red peppers
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Cut apples into 1-inch chunks, discard stems but do not seed or peel. Insert metal blade in food processor and coarsely chop apples in several batches. Place apples in 4- quart nonaluminum soup kettle. Quarter lemons and add to kettle with water. Cover and simmer until apples and lemons are very soft, stirring frequently, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Position very fine-mesh sieve, large strainer or colander lined with damp cheesecloth, or jelly bag over large mixing bowl. Transfer apple mixture to sieve and let drip undisturbed until no more liquid remains in sieve, about 1 to 2 hours. There should be 6-1/2 cups liquid. Do not press apples to extract additional liquid, or jelly will become cloudy.
Clean the same soup kettle and add apple liquid, vinegar and sugar. Heat mixture to boiling, stirring once or twice to be sure sugar is dissolved. Skim off any foam that rises to surface. Simmer until mixture reaches 222 degrees on candy or meat thermometer, about 20 to 30 minutes.
While syrup is cooking, use rubber gloves to stem and seed jalapenos. Insert metal blade in clean dry food processor container and mince jalapenos by adding to machine with motor running.
Cut green peppers into 1-inch pieces, add to machine and process until chopped. Set aside. Cut up and separately process red peppers with 1/2-second pulses.
When syrup reaches 222 degrees, lower heat and stir in all chopped peppers. Reheat syrup and boil again until mixture reaches 222 degrees. Stir in cilantro. Immediately pour jelly into hot sterilized canning jars and follow manufacturer's instructions for sealing. Makes about 2 quarts.