On my list of things to learn next, in addition to another language, how to train Ollie not to bark, and propel my body into a yoga headstand without passing out – was jelly making.  Like many great-grandmothers, mine perfected this technique. If I was going to become a great cook, I would need to figure it out.

I had an opportunity this New Year’s Eve to try it out on some unsuspecting friends.  We were invited to a party and asked to bring an appetizer.  Just as I hate showing up and seeing my dress looking better on someone else, it’s embarrassing to bring the same over-used dish.  So, a combo of a vintage dress and Thomas Keller seemed perfect.

After a trip to the store, I returned with all, but one ingredient – Apple Pectin.  Since I’m new to this cooking thing, I usually do not recognize one or two ingredients and Apple Pectin fell into this category.  Google’s results as a digestive agent further confused me, so I decided to skip it – in hind site; cooks usually do not add bizarre ingredients for no reason.… (note to self).

A gut has many functions:

1. It holds and digests your food

2. It saves you from disasters

In this case, a disaster was avoided because of my gut.  I kept researching and found that Apple Pectin’s purpose was to create the jelly like consistency. Red Pepper Jelly without pectin is simply Red Pepper Goo.

After a trip to the store and now armed with pectin, I was ready to roll.  The pectin came with two packets: pectin powder and calcium water (to activate the pectin).  The recipe called for 1 TBSP of pectin and I followed the directions on the package.  I mixed the calcium water with the pectin powder and measured 1 TBSP to mix with the sugar.  This seemed a little odd given that there were chunks of pectin in the sugar, but time was running out so I continued (maybe the heat would dissolve them??).  In the end, the heat did nothing.  I was left with Red Pepper Jelly with chunks of red pepper and pectin….

Luckily, I was able to pick the chunks out which esthetically helped.  What was left tasted fantastic, but had the constancy of goo.  I love making things that you typically buy in the store like mayonnaise, whipped cream, and now jelly!  That moment when the oil and eggs magically turn into mayo is like having Cinderella’s fairy godmother cooking right beside you. I get this feeling every time I make mayonnaise from scratch and shake my finger at Hellmann’s swearing I’ll never buy theirs again.

Red Pepper Jelly Recipe – Adapted from Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc

You will need:
~ 7 red bell peppers (about 5 ounces each)
~ 2 cups apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tablespoon apple pectin
~ 1 tablespoon canola oil
~ 1 serrano pepper
~ 2 cups sugar
~ 1/2 teaspoon salt

Dice enough red pepper into ¼ inch cubes for one cup and reserve.  Cut remaining red peppers into ½ inch cubes and serrano pepper into two (length-wise) and remove seeds.  In a large sauté pan, combine apple cider vinegar, salt, serrano pepper and ½ inch diced red pepper. Simmer over medium for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  While simmering, heat oil in a small sauté pan and add ¼ inch diced peppers.  Cook on low for about 5 minutes and then towel dry with a paper towel.

Line a fine strainer with cheesecloth and pour the red pepper vinegar liquid over the cheese cloth (make sure no chunks get through!).  Let the mixture drain for about 15 minutes.  You can twist the top of the cheese cloth but make sure not to squeeze the mixture because this could cloud the jelly.  In the end, you should end up with around 1 ¾ cups of liquid.

Mix sugar and pectin in a mixing bowl (pectin should be thoroughly mixed).

Place the pepper liquid and 1/4 inch diced peppers in a large saucepan over medium.  Slowly add sugar mixture until it has dissolved (be careful not to over heat).  Attach a candy thermometer to the saucepan.  Bring to a simmer by increasing the heat until the thermometer reads 215 or 220 degrees.  Remove from heat.

One of my favorite tricks learned from Thomas Keller was how to tell when the jelly is the right consistency.  You simply take one spoonful of the liquid and place it in the fridge for 10 minutes.  If after the texture is right, then you are done; if not, keep simmering!

Once it has slightly cooled (no need to accidentally pour simmering jelly on your hand!), pour into a can.  I made three small sized jelly/jamming jars.