I don’t suppose that I’m the only one who likes to receive a homemade gift at Christmas time (or for any other occasion).
It’s like getting two gifts in one: the item itself and the time, effort and care that the giver invested in making it.
Jams, jellies, pickles and the like are great gifts, particularly for people who do not do any preserving. You might think that this is a missed opportunity, that it’s too late to do any preserving for Christmas gifts this year.
Not so. Preserving can be a year-round activity. You can make jam using fruit that was frozen in season, and you can use foods that are available in the grocery store to make various kinds of preserves at any time of the year. I was reminded of this when looking through Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard’s The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving.
I have used summer and fall-season recipes from the book, including Southwest Salsa (my favourite salsa recipe), Lemon Ginger Zucchini Marmalade and Madras Pickled Eggplant. I’ve been confident trying new recipes developed by these two reliable authors, who have considerable experience and expertise in the field of preserving, and I haven’t been disappointed.
Besides the type of preserved food, such as strawberry jam, corn relish and spiced crabapple jelly, that have traditionally been made in Canadian kitchens, Topp and Howard have developed recipes for foods that reflect the diversity of the Canadian population and take advantage of the variety of foods that are available to us year-round. They include satay sauce, tapinades and pickled peppers.
The recipes make small batches because while Canadians are interested in home preserving, many do not have cold cellars with storage space for dozens of bottles of jam and pickles. It’s also an acknowledgment that we now spend a good deal of time outside the home and cannot commit large blocks of time to working with bushels of cucumbers or tomatoes, as previous generations did.
Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly is a take-off on the popular red pepper jelly that is often found on appetizer tables with cream cheese and crackers or toasted baguette slices. It would make a great hostess gift.
I’ve incorporated their general directions for preparing and filling jars, processing and cooling, into the recipe.
Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly
From Topp, Ellie and Margaret Howard: The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: over 300 delicious recipes to use year-round. Second Edition, Firefly Books Ltd., Richmond Hill, 2009.
1 large sweet red pepper
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, or other hot pepper
50 mL (¼ cup) water
175 mL (3/4 cup) cider vinegar
175 mL (3/4 cup) frozen cranberry cocktail concentrate, thawed
750 mL (3 cups) granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
Place 4 250 mL/8 oz mason jars in a boiling water canner. Add hot water to jars and canner until water level reaches the top of the jars. Cover the canner and place over medium heat until the water is very hot but not boiling. Keep jars hot in the canner until they are filled.
Finely chop sweet and jalapeño peppers in food processor. Place in a small saucepan with water and vinegar. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a coarse sieve, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Pour liquid through a jelly bag.
Place strained liquid, cranberry concentrate and sugar in a medium stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin, return to a full boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Prepare lids for mason jars as directed on the package, and then fill and cover jars, one at a time. Ladle jelly into hot jar, leaving 1 cm (½ inch) of headspace. Slide a small wooden or plastic spatula around the inside of the jar to release any trapped air. Wipe the rim of the jar to remove any stickiness, top with a prepared lid, and apply a screw band until fingertip tight.
Place filled jars on the rack of the canner, and adjust the water level to cover the jars by about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Cover the canner, and bring water to a boil. Starting timing when the water has come to a steady boil, and process for 10 minutes.
Then turn off the heat, remove the cover from the canner, and leave the jars in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars from the canner to a wooden cutting board or a surface covered with several layers of towels or newspapers.
Allow to cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours and then check the seal. The metal lids curve downward on sealed bottles. Remove the screw bands, dry and store separately or replace them loosely on bottles.
Makes 750 mL (3 cups).
One further thought: making jelly or any other type of preserves may not be the way that you plan to spend the time between now and Christmas, especially if you are still shopping for gifts. The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving or a similar reliable book on home preserving would be a practical and relatively inexpensive gift for someone — either novice or experienced — who is interested in home preserving.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.