When we visited the Cayman Islands earlier this month, we flew with carry-on baggage, which severely limited what we could bring home. We jettisoned some shampoo and toothpaste and slid some small jars of Cayman hot pepper jelly into our 1-quart ziploc bags, but it wasn’t enough to keep us in cracker spread for very long.
We thought we’d try to make our own version, almost using up our store of the original to analyze what was in it. (The recipe is a secret, but food labeling laws mean that the packaging discloses the ingredients, if not the proportions or the way they are handled.) Knowing that we didn’t have the “assorted West Indian peppers” listed as the principal ingredients, we improvised. Clearly we needed Scotch bonnets for the heat and fruit, but we also needed some other fruity peppers as filler or the result would be inedible. We finally settled on a mix of sweet bell peppers, long and conical Italian peppers, mildly hot Fresno chile peppers, and (of course) Scotch bonnets.
So with the outdoor thermometer here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reading 19 degrees F (the wind chill brings the effective temperature to-7F), we imagined being back in the warm sunshine of Grand Cayman as we cooked up some heat. As we worked through the recipe, we constantly tasted and adjusted the herbs and spices to parallel the Cayman product as closely as we could.
All jellies take a few days to fully set. We’ll get back to you with a side-by-side taste test.
Cayman style hot pepper jelly (version 1)
3 red bell peppers
3 ripe (orange or red) Italian frying peppers
3 red-ripe Fresno chile peppers
6 ripe Scotch bonnet chile peppers
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 1/2 cups white cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pouch Certo liquid pectin
Using a propane torch, char the skins on all the peppers, place in plastic bag to sweat for 5 minutes, then scrape away burnt skins. Cut up peppers, discarding stems, seeds, and white membranes. (Rubber gloves will help prevent chile burn.) Cut peppers into small dice. You should have about 3 cups.
Place diced peppers and vinegar in a blender or food processor and process until completely pureed.
Place pepper puree in 6 quart or larger non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enameled cast iron) and stir in sugar, butter, salt, garlic, thyme, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. Bring slowly to a rolling boil, stirring all the while to thoroughly dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Skim off foam with a metal spoon. (The butter binds with the foam, making it easy to remove.)
Stir pectin into pepper mixture and raise heat to return to a rolling boil. Boil exactly 1 minute and remove from heat.
Ladle into jelly jars. Add lids and rings. Tighten rings. Process in boiling water bath (about two inches above tops of jars) for 5 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. Jelly may take a few days to set.
Makes 7 cups of jelly.