Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PICK A PEPPER (jelly)

WHEN MY PICKY EATER column on the topic of Pepper Jelly ran last week, I got a handful of email responses from pepper jelly fans; people who wondered why I did not include their personal favorites. Among those suggested to me was one made by Tabasco (which I did not find locally), a homemade jelly that a very sweet person offered to drop by, and a third wanted me to check out Pepperlane Pepper Jellies.

"We moved back to the Bay Area from Park City Utah and brought a number of the jellies w/ us. As fate would have it, I ran out of Pepperlane the same day your article came out. I called them and they are sending an order for me and I asked for a couple of jars for you to try against your top jellies in the article."

Thankfully, the company intervened, and sent over not just one or two... but 14 different flavors of pepper jelly. The jellies are made with peaches, raspberries, meyer lemons, red bell peppers, blood oranges, garlic, and of course peppers and more peppers. As I tasted through the lineup, I was just so impressed by the bright, fresh flavors. I daresay this one would have grabbed a top spot in my article -- had I known about it!
Just in case you missed my column, here is the unedited version.
If you happen to be one of those people who have absolutely no idea why anyone would even want to eat pepper jelly, I understand completely. That’s who I was about ten years ago, before I spooned some next to a pile of curried cauliflower. The result was inspired. The sweet quashed the heat; the heat played with the cumin and coriander. I realize it’s not a traditional Indian condiment – but I never want to eat an Indian curry dish without it again.
After that taste experience, I started putting pepper jelly in my salad dressing, smearing it on my panini, and adding a dash to my stir-fry. For me, pepper jelly is a dish-finisher, an ingredient that can balance flavors in so many dishes.
Since I’m dumping it on cream cheese, dolloping it on cheesy bruschetta, and relying on it to punch up everything from a turkey sandwich to a tofu steak, I need to make sure that my pepper jelly is up to the task.
Good pepper jellies come in a range of styles, from hot-hot to mild. How hot you like your jelly is purely personal preference, but a good pepper jelly needs to deliver distinct pepper flavor, have a pleasing texture, and have a judicious amount sugar.
Here are details on a handful of promising pepper jellies, most of which I found on local store shelves.
Jenkins Jellies Hell Fire Pepper Jelly****
This California-made jam is plenty sweet, and it has a super-hot, wake-up sass that works with everything from pasta to breakfast burritos. An 11.9-ounce jar is $12. Find it at Dean & Deluca in St. Helena or online at www.jenkinsjellies.com.
Kozlowski Farms Russian River Valley Organic 5 Pepper Jam***1/2
Those who aren’t huge fans of heat but love the flavor of juicy red bell peppers and kicky poblanos will enjoy this chunky style jam with medium heat. A 10.5-ounce jar is $6.99 at Raley’s.
Oasis Foods Ragin’ Red Jalapeno Jelly***1/2
This jelly from Austin, Texas is a touch too sweet, but I love the interplay of roasty onions and salt with medium-hot peppers. A 10-ounce jar is $5.99 at Safeway.
Quinn’s Cilantro Lime Jelly***
If you’re looking for something unusual, fun and really tasty, this bright, creative jelly is it. I wish it had a bit more heat, but the combination of bell peppers and lime work really well together. A 12-ounce jar is $6. Find it online at www.seattlegourmetfoods.com.
Quinn’s Marionberry Pepper Jelly**1/2
Not every jelly that contains peppers has to burn the mouth, but this fruity marionberry jam is so subtle that you could get away with putting it on your p-b-j sandwich. It’s delicious, but the flavors of the various peppers are just a touch understated. A 12-ounce jar is $6. Find it online at www.seattlegourmetfoods.com.
Tess’ Tickles Jalapeno Pepper Spread*
I like the green bell pepper flavor of this locally made jam from Lafayette, but the bits of pepper skin are so unpleasantly waxy that it feels like I’m chewing plastic. A 10-ounce jar is $5.49 at BevMo.
Reese Hot Pepper Jelly 1/2*
This is a two-dimensional jelly that lacks personality. It’s hot, but way too sweet. It is also unnaturally red in color, thanks to a shot of food dye. A 10-ounce jar is $3.89 at Raley’s.



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