When it comes to high-octane food, there’s nothing with more oomph than chile peppers from the Genus Capsicum. When you’re looking for a little extra sizzle for your vittles, these culinary gems offer a wide range of heat-enhancement options. That heat is caused by the chemical capsaicin, and is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) which range from a “zero” in bell peppers (thanks to a recessive gene that eliminates the heat) up to others that range into the millions. Now that’s some hot stuff!
Visit the Big List of Peppers on Cayenne Diane’s blog, and you’ll find something like a gazillion peppers (with “cool” names like Devil’s Tongue, Trinidad Scorpion, the Naga Viper, the Carolina Reaper, and the Madame Jeannette, named after a famous Brazilian prostitute) there, along with great photos, descriptions of the peppers, and their accompanying Scoville units. You’ll notice that the current hottest pepper in the world is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (until 2012, the hottest pepper was the Ghost Chili), and its Scoville units are over two million. Don’t think I want to try that one! (Nor do I ever hope to be in the path of the five million units of law enforcement pepper spray and hope I never have to use my three million units of bear spray).
Why are we humans so intrigued by the heat in hot peppers? Maybe ’cause it “hurts so good.” Eating peppers (or spreading ointment with capsaicin on arthritic knees) causes the body to release endorphins, our natural pain reliever, and create a little “high.” And, oh yeah – there are studies that show that peppers are heart-healthy for us by lowering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure. And there’s mounting evidence that hot peppers are helpful in the treatment of some cancers. The downside? Other studies show that they can perhaps contribute to gastic and esophageal cancers.
For us, maybe it is the endorphin thing, but, whatever the reason, we’re big fans (in small amounts) of the habanero (100,000 to 350,000 Scovilles ….. contrasted to the 20,000 SHUs in those jalapenos in your salsa). Despite the incredible heat, habaneros have a fruity after-note, and, well, we just like ‘em. And our favorite use of this lovely little pepper is in hot pepper jelly.
Last summer, our habanero crop was extremely fruitful, and we made some habanero gold jelly. And then we started eating it (and couldn’t stop) and giving it away, and, well, we were out of the precious stuff by mid-winter, so we plan to be (only a little) more frugal with its use this winter. So, if you’ve got a great crop of habaneros – or your farmers’ market is overwhelmed with them – try your hand at a batch of two of this great gift from the garden. And Barbara, we’re curious – can you buy habaneros in your markets or stores? How about some of those weapons-grade Viper or Ghost Chili peppers? How about the peter pepper? We’ve been moderately successful at growing it here, but Cayenne Diane’s blog mentions that it’s mainly grown in Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico. So – any peters in Mexico, Barb?
If you’re the habanero chopper, I can’t stress this enough – WEAR GLOVES! And if you’ve got a little sinus congestion going on, you’re in luck, because the fumes from just chopping will certainly clear up any issues there. So, after you’ve donned your gloves, start by finely chopping peppers to make 1/4 cup.
Next, finely chop up 1 cup of dried apricots. Apricots? I know, weird, right? But they add color, texture, volume, and taste.
Now mix up a combination of minced red onions and sweet red pepper to equal 1-1/2 cups. Place the habaneros, apricots, and red pepper and red onions into a large pot. Add 1-1/2 cups white vinegar, and 6 cups sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit at least 5 hours, or overnight. This helps the dried apricots absorb the liquids and all the flavors to meld.
Start boiling water in a medium sized canner, and clean six pint jelly jars. You can sterilize your jars in the boiling water bath in the canner. Also, pour boiling water over the sealing and screw-top lids and let those sit.
Once your boiling water bath is close to boiling, put your pot of habanero goodies back on the stovetop and bring the whole mixture back to a boil. Stir in one 3-ounce pouch of LIQUID pectin. Boil hard for one minute and then pull off the heat. If there’s foam, skim it off, and let the mixture cool for two minutes. Pour into jars, seal, and process in that boiling water bath for 10 minutes (because of our altitude, we do 20 minutes).
And if you get real close, the habaneros and apricots almost look like goldfish swimming:
So, there you have it – the most excellent adventure of habanero pepper jelly. One note of caution – it’s pretty darn hot straight out of the jar. So, serve it poured over a block of cream cheese, with accompanying crackers, as an hors d’oeuvre. The cream cheese tempers the heat, making it perfect!