The first time I made hot pepper jelly—a sumptuous and piquant blend of spicy peppers, sugar, lemon, and apple cider vinegar—I expected to feel the burn on my tongue, not on my fingers. Alas, I contracted a brutal case of “hot pepper hands,” caused when capsaicin, a chemical compound found in chiles, comes into contact with skin.
But once the pain evaporated, it was all pleasure. I slathered the relish on bread, crackers (with cream cheese, of course), even ice cream. Hot pepper jelly is said to have originated in Lake Jackson in the seventies, but recipe variations (green pepper ketchup, anyone?) go back much further. Regardless, its popularity in Texas is indisputable.
Adapted from a recipe by Emily Lozon, an Austin home cook who shares her culinary adventures on Instagram, this rendition includes strawberries. Their natural pectins give the jelly its thickness; a paste of cornstarch and water can achieve the same effect, but I like the sweetness of the berries.
Hot Pepper Jelly
Makes one 8-ounce jar
½ shallot, diced
1 habanero pepper, seeded and diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1 serrano pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ lemon, juiced
¼ cup strawberries, chopped (or substitute a mixture of 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water)
In a small saucepan, stir the shallot, peppers, butter, red pepper flakes, sugar, and vinegar over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the jelly has reduced and somewhat thickened. Add the lemon juice and chopped strawberries (or cornstarch mixture), and cook over low heat until the strawberries are broken down and the jelly has thickened, about 25–30 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. The jelly will continue to thicken as it cools, but if it’s still a little watery you can return to the heat for a few more minutes (or add more cornstarch). Store in a lidded glass jar in the refrigerator for as long as three months.
This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Spread the Love.” Subscribe today.