I stirred the jalapeño jelly mixture as it boiled, mock-grumbling about the heat and humidity. “Why do we do this again?” I asked. There wasn’t a heat wave, thank goodness, but the canning process had already raised the temperature inside the kitchen by three degrees Celsius. To save electricity, we had turned airconditioning off while I worked in the kitchen. So it was just me, a fan, and three stove burners going at once: the jelly mix, the canning water bath, and a small pot to sterilize the lids.
I lifted the Mason jars out of the large canning pot, where they had been simmering for the last fifteen minutes. The routine was starting to come back to me: place the canning funnel; ladle the jelly into the jar; leave some headroom, scooping jelly out if needed; pop the bubbles; wipe the rim and the jar threads; use the magnet to pick up and place a lid; tighten the ring, then loosen it just a little bit.
It was still hard to imagine that I’d once prepared 95 bottles of jam/jelly/syrup during last year’s epic Canada Day weekend jam-making session – tokens for our wedding guests and gifts for other occasions. We’d somehow managed to give away or finish all of our blueberry jam. I’ve been waiting for blueberries to go on sale, but we haven’t seen prices like last year’s – maybe the yield hasn’t been as good this year. But jalapeño peppers were back to their sale price, so we scooped up enough for a double recipe.
As I bottled more jelly, the motions began to feel more familiar. I was happy to see the recipe was just the right volume for the seven bottles I’d sterilized. I lowered the jalapeño jelly into the large canning pot filled with hot water, set the timer, and turned up the heat.
After fifteen minutes, I used the canning tongs to pull out a jar. As the air inside the first jar cooled and contracted, the lid was sucked in by the vacuum. It popped reassuringly, resulting in a slight depression in the center of the lid. Each jar popped within a few seconds of removal from the canner. With each pop, the heat seemed to recede a bit further, replaced with memories of jalapeño spread on cream cheese and crackers. I moved the jars to the kitchen table and started working on the second batch of seven jars. It went more smoothly. If we had more produce – and a long weekend ahead of us – I could see how I might’ve kept on going.
For us, canning isn’t about the $1/lb difference between on-sale jalapeños and regular jalapeños (or other produce), the ability to enjoy the taste of summer while snow buries the earth, or even traditional recipes handed down through generations. The first time I ever canned something was during our August 2009 staycation, using recipes from the Internet, and I don’t actually tend to reach for jam or jelly when I have toast.
I sweat through the canning process for other reasons: enjoying tastes that are difficult to find at the local supermarket (such as apricot syrup and jalapeño jelly), and making gifts instead of giving things that people might be able to buy elsewhere. At the end of the day, I think it’s worth it.
Jalapeño jelly adapted from What’s Cooking America; we had an extra pepper, so I added a little more liquid pectin. Processed in hot water for 15 minutes, based on our old recipe.
Fills 7 – 8 500ml jars, depending on the sizes of your peppers
Remove the stems from the peppers. Puree the whole jalapeño peppers in a blender. Add the peppers without the seeds, and chop them in the blender. Add white vinegar and the bell peppers.
Transfer the pepper mixture into a large non-reactive pot over medium-high heat. Get it to a hard boil (lots of small bubbles), then continue boiling it for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now is also a good time to start sterilizing your jars and lids in hot water, if you haven’t done so already.
Remove the pepper mixture from heat. Add the sugar and the lemon juice. Stir thoroughly. Put the mixture back on medium-high heat, and return to a hard boil. When it’s boiling again, add liquid pectin and green food colouring (I used 10 drops), return to a boil, and boil for a full minute. (If you omit food colouring, the jelly may turn brown.)
The original recipe calls for straining the jelly, but we skipped that step because we don’t mind texture.
Pour into sterilized jars, then process in hot water for 15 minutes.
In retrospect, I think I added too much pectin, because I didn’t do the ounce-to-milliliter check with the original recipe. We’ll just have to see if it’s too solid or still somewhat spreadable. Meep! Worst-case scenario, we’ll treat this as our stash and make another batch for gifts. Oh my, whatever shall we do…