Apricot + Habanero Pepper Jelly

End of season harvests can be a little unpredictable.  Some years it seems the garden quietly slows down on its own, while other years, it keeps on roaring right until the end.  A lot of rain and a "second August" have put this year's garden firmly in the second category, at least where the peppers are concerned - and especially where the hot peppers are concerned.
Making pepper jelly was high on my list of ambitions for this garden season.  There's just something about jars of pepper jelly with particles of brightly colored peppers suspended in jewel-toned jelly that is mesmerizing and beautiful. It's also a simple application that preserves so well the beauty and color of these spicy little gems - and it is a super versatile addition to any kitchen gardener's pantry.  
I searched through dozens and dozens of recipes, looking for one that would be remarkable in both appearance and flavor.  I wanted a recipe that would use a variety of peppers, and I especially wanted to incorporate the latest harvest of habaneros, as they have a wonderful fruity, almost floral quality that seemed perfect for a jelly, but would also pack enough heat to cut through the sweetness.
I knew I had found the right place to start when I found a recipe that also called for dried apricots.  Everything about this recipe perfectly captured my desire to bottle up this late summer - early fall perfection and preserve it.
There was just one small problem: the recipe only made a few jars of jelly.

Small batches of jams and jellies are great when you have smaller quantities of fruit, or just want to try out a new recipe before fully stocking the pantry with it, but sometimes a large batch is exactly what you need to conquer a particularity abundant harvest, or make enough to gift to family and friends.   And so it came to be that last Saturday, I made two, back to back quadruple batches of pepper jelly.

That is a lot of fine dicing, but oh so worth it in the end!
I made a few minor adaptations to the recipe, most notably working in a little more variety in the number of kinds and colors of peppers I added.  I used a large King of the North red bell pepper, but made up the difference with a few red Black Hungarian peppers to add a little mild heat to the sweet portion.  For hot peppers, I used a mixture of serranos and jalapenos, and added a couple of yellow-just barely turning orange Santa Fe Grande peppers for a little color interest and to stretch the habaneros just a wee bit (I was about 2 short).  This makes for a batch of jelly that can easily be adapted for what you have growing in your garden as well as your preferred heat level.  I also substituted apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, wanting to give a rich and full "fall" flavor to the jelly.  
I would also highly recommend finely dicing the apricots instead of slicing them.  The size of the apricot slivers was fine when they were going into the pan, but after a few hours of soaking, the pieces seemed a little too large given the fine treatment given the peppers and onions and the size (and length) caused a lot of the pieces to clump together a bit once the pectin was added. I remedied this with the second batch and was much happier with the results.  If you do decide to go with larger pieces of dried fruit, I would recommend increasing the soaking time to allow them to soften a bit more.
The final result is pretty amazing.  The jelly is sweet, savory, spicy, and a little tangy - and I love how it looks in the jars (it looks pretty sitting on the counter in normal indoor light, but hold it up in bright sunlight, and wow!).  This one is a keeper - and if the handful of green habaneros that I just can't bring myself to pluck from the plant yet make it - one that I will even be making one more time this year.  

Note to Mother Nature: I'll take this kind of end to the garden season any time.
Apricot & Habanero Pepper Jelly 
[double, triple, or quadruple quantities for a larger batch]
1/3 cups finely diced dried apricots
3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup very finely diced red sweet pepper
1/4 cup very finely diced red onion
1/8 cup very finely diced habanero pepper
1/8 cup very finely diced green chili peppers (jalapeno, serrano, etc. or a mixture)
3 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine finely diced apricots and vinegar in a large pot, cover, and allow apricots to soak for at least 4 hours.  

Carefully (i.e. wear gloves when handling the habaneros and other hot peppers) remove seeds from peppers and dice very finely, along with the onion and set aside.    

After apricots have had time to soak, add sugar, stirring until fully incorporated (mixture will be thick, but will quickly become more liquid).  Fold in peppers and onion and, stirring constantly, bring to a boil over high heat.  When mixture reaches a rapid boil (cannot be stirred down), add the liquid pectin and return to a boil for exactly 1 minute. 

Remove from heat, skim off foam, and fill sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  

Yield: 3-4 half pints per batch

Recipe adapted from Bernardin Home Canning

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