Red Hot Mama

Crabapple Hot-Pepper Jelly

Dear Reader:

As mentioned in last week’s post, one of the successes in my garden this year was growing chili peppers. These hot little items are small–two inches long–and turned from light green, to dark brown streaked, to fiery red on small, bushy plants at the front of my garden boxes. They are pretty, and while I enjoy plants for sheer beauty, I find it exciting when I can actually use plants for both decoration and food. I chopped a few into a tomato salsa and was rewarded with quite a kick of heat, but what else could I do with them?

A trip up to the local orchard provided an answer. While walking through the gift shop/payment shed, I noticed a sign listing the price of crabapples at $1.50/lb. This was a lower price than that of the Cortland and MacIntoshes, and I immediately thought of crabapple jelly. A second later, I thought of crabapple-hot pepper jelly. And when I mentioned this thought to the nice young man who runs the orchard, he told me about a cookbook they just happened to be selling which included recipes for both kinds of preserves. Score!

The crabapples were larger than the teeny-tiny ones I usually have on my flowering crab, a little larger than the big marbles we used to play with as kids . . . or the giant gumballs you could get for 10 cents from the machines in the supermarket lobby. Some had soft or brown rotting places, but I was able to quickly pick about six pounds of nice apples. The day was hot and sultry, and the fragrance beneath that tree was intoxicating. I could only hope my jelly would turn out to be as delicious as that scent!

I waited until after Labor Day weekend to attempt my first batch of jelly. I’ve made strawberry and blueberry jams in the past, but never jelly. The instructions in Theresa Millang’s THE JOY OF APPLES cookbook were clear and easy to follow. Basically, you put the apples into some water and cook them until they are soft and mushy. Then you pass them through a cheesecloth either in a strainer or hanging up like a bag over a bowl. You take the juice and mix it with sugar, add the chopped up chili peppers and some green peppers if you like a little extra color, boil it until it has reached jelling consistency (it runs off the spoon in two drips that meld together as they come off the spoon . . . or until you decide it MUST be done. This part was the hardest to calculate), and then put into your prepared jars which you process for five minutes or so in a boiling water “bath.”

Fagor Home Canning Kit

The jelly-making process is messy. You have towels and boiling water and boiling fruit juice and jars to keep hot and sterilized and lids to keep hot and sterilized and drips of jelly going all over the place. It is best to clear a few hours as well as your countertops before you start. Read through all the instructions and make a plan of action. For example, the big canning pot I have takes a long, long time to boil water on top of my flat-top stove as the pot is three times the diameter of the largest burner. The water should be boiling by the time you fill the jelly jars. It also helps to have a jar lifter to get the boiled jars out of the scalding water. You can buy canning sets from local hardware stores. Or you can order online from a site like

I was able to fill eight half-pint jelly jars and two smaller jars with my six pounds of crab-apples. The color of the jelly is an exquisite dark pink dotted with bits of red and green pepper. I put the smaller jars into the fridge rather than process them, and these jelled perfectly. The jars I processed with lids sealed well, but the jelly looks a little, well, un-jelled in there. Until I open one, it will be impossible to know if the preserve set correctly. I may pop them into the refrigerator a couple hours before I plan to serve.

I taste-tested the refrigerated jelly within a couple of hours. It proved to be a delicious sweet-hot combination, fiery at the back of the tongue. As for serving suggestions, hot-pepper jelly is fabulous as a snack dumped over a square of cream cheese and served with crackers. According to the cookbook, it also goes well with chicken and pork, but I’m not sure how you’d present it. Just plop some on each plate beside the meat? Or put the jar on the table so guests can dip in a spoonful and smear it on the meat? I may simply try glazing some pork chops or chicken breasts before baking on some cold winter evening when we could use a little heat in our food.

Jars All In A Row

Now that I’ve had some success with crab-apples, I’m rethinking my plan to plant dwarf apple trees on my property and may plant crab-apples instead. Their pretty blossoms in the spring and amazing fragrance in the fall, as well as the beautiful pink color of the jelly, have won me over. Now not only am I Flabbercrabby, I’m Flabbercrab-appley!

As we head into autumn, don’t forget to visit your local farm stand, farmer’s market, or orchard for the bounty of the season. If you’ve never tried preserving food, why not take a stab at it this year? And one more note of caution: when working with chili peppers, do not rub your eyes until you’ve thoroughly washed your hands. If not, you’ll be a red-EYED Mama instead of a red-hot one.

13 responses to “Red Hot Mama

  1. This sounds yummy. I tried some zucchini relish recently at my cousin’s and it was amazing on top of a burger. I just bought some sweet/hot jelly at Hannaford which will go nicely over some cream cheese. I’d like to sample yours some time as well. 🙂

    • Zucchini relish sounds like fun!

      • I love zucchini relish.
        So Shelley what day should I bring crackers and cream cheese to go with the Jelly??
        I’ve cooked orange marmalade on pork loin before. Yumm!

        Scott has wanted to plant a postage stamp orchard for awhile now. Maybe that is something you want to look into where your space is limited.
        I hope it wasn’t someone speaking from experience but the red-Eyed Mama.

      • Is that you over there, Becky, the blurry outline? Yes, I’m speaking from experience, but luckily my eyes stopped stinging after about a half hour. Postage stamp orchard–that sounds interesting. And come over any time for a snack.

  2. As I got a bunch of crab apples, I didn’t do so well for peppers this year. To wet it seemed. But this sounds good… maybe I should try with store bought.

    But don’t give up on your swarf apple tree. It has been a off year for many different trees that either didn’t bloom or were lazy bloomers this year.

    🙂 have a good one.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Yes, my tree didn’t bloom this year. I blamed the Japanese beetles, but maybe it was the weather. Too bad about your peppers. It’s always something, isn’t it?

      • I think it may be the weather. Too much humidity can do that sometimes. Besides I read down and had the “fuzzy mold” aka blight as well. I think it was just that time for it. Most everyone I know had it in some degree or on most tom’s, cukes and zukes. Better luck next year!

        I added you to my blogroll as I would love to keep in contact and see how Maine vrs Alaska can do in the coming winter and summer. 🙂

        It could be fun. Have a great one!

  3. my Mom always served jelly on the side when she had pork chops- I would imagine it would be no different then serving applesauce on the side with foods.

  4. I picked some crab apples from my neighbor this year. They were certainly bigger then I remember growing up. I made pickled crab apples that had local honey in it in lieu of sugar. I can’t wait to tast it. It says it needs to sit in the jars for at least a month so time will tell….

  5. I think the idea of the glaze sounds perfect. There are several recipes for chicken and pork that call for orange marmalade- this would be a great substitute. I love the sweet-hot combinations by Stonewall Kitchen (I think that is the name) I will be home in October. Try not to eat it all before I get there. I can’t wait to try it.

  6. We’ve been experimenting with the blackberries which we picked from our yard. We didn’t have the courage to use them in a jam or Jelly perhaps next year. We did bake some splendid muffins and breads… We did stop at a lovely little orchard on the way to Cornish and we bought a Pear Jam, which was delicious. Harvest season is very exciting, as those lost favorites reappear! Your Jelly sounds lovely.

    • Ah, Cornish, Maine. Did you go to the Apple Festival? It’s the cutest little town for antiquing, and my favorite restaurant, Krista’s, is there. You may have good luck mixing the blackberries with a sweeter berry like blueberry just to cut the seediness. I think I’ve seen blackberry/currant jam somewhere, but not sure where you’d find currants. Pear Jam sounds good! Thanks for the nice comments about the blog, and I’ll probably get back to Facebook eventually . . . however, I won’t be making so many “provocative” comments. Self-expression is a dish best served . . . in a private dining room, preferably with a view of the Atlantic and with flickering candles casting shadows on the snowy, white tablecloth. LOL.

  7. Of course anything that can go with cream cheese can also go with chevre 😉 Awesome looking, nice red, and of course homemade gifts are key in times of economic downturn so you’d just as well add flabber-frugal?

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