WOW. It’s September!? Where did the time go?
I never imagined back in February when I first read Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, that in just a few months I’d relate to it so deeply. Literally, about 5 months after finishing it, my life was turned into a chapter from the book. Of course, in the book, Molly chronicles the loss of her father, and I lost my grandmother. But to me it doesn’t matter. When you lose someone who is such a big part of your life, then you can’t possibly be bothered with labels or monikers or anything. It transcends a word like ‘mother’ or ‘father’ and becomes an emotion. A piece of you. A part of your life that’s so much more than just an ambiguous noun or description such as “grandmother.”
So it wasn’t long ago when I spotted the book on my shelf & , remembering what it was about, opened it up again. I started re-reading it, in sporadic blips, a little bit each day. Laughing along with her at some parts, and tearing up (okay, fine- even crying a little bit) with her at others. I wanted to high five her when she wrote:
When your father dies, especially if he is older, people like to say things such as, “He was lucky. He lived a long, full life.” It’s hard to know what to say to that. What often comes to mind is, “Yes, you’re right. He was seventy-three, so I guess it was his time. But did you know him? Did you see how he was? He bought wine futures seven months before he died. He saw patients the afternoon he was diagnosed. He wasn’t finished.
Needless to say, you get that even more when it’s a grandparent, not to mention one who’s over 90. I mean, I have friends who lost parents who were 30+ years younger than that, so I realize she did indeed live a very long life. And yes, she was lucky to have been healthy. And sure, I’m aware of the cycle of life & that this is the ultimate result of everyone’s life. But in reality, those who knew my grandmother knew she was not ready to go. She had no intentions of dying. She was not sick. She wasn’t tired of living. She had a lot to live for. She wasn’t one of these old ladies or men who said “God please take me now.” Nuh uh. Not her. She was present in the here & now. She watched Lady Gaga on American Idol (& loved it). She read about Beyoncé in the July issue of W magazine. Every fashion magazine I subscribe to, I’d pass on to her when I was finished & she’d read them. Speaking of, she read books, magazines & the newspaper every day. She was planning outfits she was going to wear in the winter & fall. She was polishing the lock on her Louis Vuitton bag a few days before she died, because God forbid she went out somewhere & someone thought she looked like “a rag bag.” She wasn’t finished. She was probably just as angry that she had to leave us as we were. What happened to her was a random, unfair, terrible thing that could happen to anyone, at any time, at any age; a fast moving intracerebral brain hemorrhage. It was not related to her health, or lifestyle, or medicine, or anything else. It was not expected. And the fact that she was 93 & “lived a long life” means nothing to me & is of no comfort in terms of her being taken from me so quickly. I took care of her, spent my entire life with her, was with her practically since I was born. I made sure she took pills when she started to forget, took her to the doctor and made sure she was happy & comfortable & had the best quality of life a 93-year-old could possibly have. She was my godmother, my grandmother, my friend, my biggest supporter (other than my parents, of course), my ally, my defender, and the list goes on. The loss of her presence in my life goes beyond losing a grandparent.
I’d been keeping busy, my hands & my mind working overtime in the kitchen. Pickles, jams, jellies, sauces, salsas, canned peppers, the list goes on. I was a lunatic for making things. I couldn’t stop. Slowly, things got a little better. I slowed down a little. With the coming of the fall, baking started again, and I finally got into the groove of cooking normal sized dinners. I allowed myself to relax. I’m trying to let myself be excited about Halloween, my favorite holiday, since all the stores are full of the decorations & candy already. But really, the sadness remains. It’s going to be a year of firsts for me, and each one is going to be rough. I let myself be sad, and I let myself have a good cry, but I’m really trying to be positive & enjoy life like she did. However, I still can’t sit down for a few minutes with nothing to do, unless it’s to write an e-mail or a blog post, or watch a TV show or movie, or sew, or read something I’m really into… because if my brain isn’t working it starts to slowly go there. And there is the place I don’t want it to go. So instead of that… I make things like Habanero jelly. Not that I’m avoiding my grief, but I’m trying to avoid the melancholy that accompanies remembering she’s not here. I’d rather think of her in happy times & not be so sad. It’s difficult- and it hasn’t even been two months.
So yes. Clearly, this post is about my crazy need to create things & those super-hot little fiery orange peppers that were hangin’ around in my garden this year- Habaneros. Habanero’s are pretty prolific, so of course I ended up with a lot of them. I wound up making three different recipes to use up all those little balls of fire I harvested. While none of the following three recipes are from Molly’s book, they’re all equally excellent. And easy.
The habanero chilli ( /ˌhɑːbəˈnɛəroʊ/; Spanish: [aβaˈneɾo]; Capsicum chinense) is one of the more intensely piquant species of chili peppers of the Capsicum genus. It is sometimes misspelled (and mispronounced) habañero—the diacritical mark being added as a hyperforeignism. Unripe habaneros are green, and they color as they mature. Common colors are orange and red, but white, brown, and pink are also seen. Typically a ripe habanero is 2–6 centimetres (0.8–2.4 in) long. Habanero chili peppers are rated 100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale.
The exact origins of the pepper are unknown, but some speculate that it originated in South America and migrated north to Mexico and the Caribbean via Colombia; an intact fruit of a small domesticated Habanero was found in Pre-ceramic levels in Guitarrero Cave in the Peruvian highlands and was dated to 6500 B.C. Upon its discovery by Spaniards, it was rapidly disseminated to other adequate climate areas of the world, to the point that 18th-century taxonomists mistook China for its place of origin and called it “Capsicum chinense”—the Chinese pepper.
The Habanero is often mistakenly referred to as the hottest pepper in the world; that honor currently belongs to the “Butch T” cultivar of Trinidad Scorpion.
Colombia and parts of the United States including Texas, Idaho, and California. While Mexico is the largest consumer of this spicy ingredient, its flavor and aroma have become increasingly popular all over the world.
Habaneros are an integral part of Yucatecan food. Habanero chilies accompany most dishes in Yucatán, either in solid or purée/salsa form.
The Scotch bonnet is often compared to the habanero since they are two varieties of the same species but have different pod types. Both the Scotch bonnet and the habanero have the characteristic thin, waxy flesh. They have a similar heat level and flavor. Although both varieties average around the same level of heat, the actual degree of “heat” varies greatly from one fruit to another with genetics, growing methods, climate, and plant stress.
The habanero’s heat, its fruity, citrus-like flavor, and its floral aroma have made it a popular ingredient in hot sauces and spicy foods. Habaneros are sometime placed in tequila or mezcal bottles, particularly in Mexico, for a period ranging from several days to several weeks, to make a spiced version of the drink.
Okay so now let’s get down to brass tacks. I LOVE hot sauce. Tapatio, Cholula, Tabasco, Frank’s Red Hot; you name it, I love it. I put it on french fries, chicken fingers, sometimes burgers or corn on the cob or even pizza. I make hot chicken subs with it (coating fried chicken cutlets with plenty of hot sauce, then putting them on toasted hoagie rolls, covering them with mozzarella & broiling them for a few minutes… yum). I love Buffalo wings. I love salsa or barbecue sauce with a little kick. I like Cajun spicy shrimp & chicken. I’m definitely one of those people who likes some heat, unlike Jay who is hot sauce phobic. He won’t admit it, but he really doesn’t like things that are too hot (except for me- HAHA… kidding) or spicy. He has a more sensitive palate to it I guess, because things that I find somewhat mild he finds pretty hot. He likes mild Buffalo wings or hot sauce, nothing too crazy. Whereas I’m willing to try just about anything with a kick and most of the time I’ll love it. So sadly, I’m the only one around here who really likes the hotter side of things.
The first harvest of 4 Hab’s… the next week gave me 6 more!
When I bought my Habanero pepper plant, which was totally on a whim, I brought it home & planted it and then thought, “What am I going to do with this thing!?” It’s not really the kind of pepper most people want to happen upon in their salsa. Habanero’s rate as one of hottest peppers on the Scoville scale at a whopping 100,000–350,000! Just to put that in perspective, a Jalapeno is about 2,500 – 8,000. Habanero’s are pretty intense. There are only 5 things hotter on the Scoville, one of them being 100% pure capsaicin (the element that makes peppers hot) and another is law enforcement grade pepper spray. Think about that for a second. Yeah. Exactly.
Funny thing is, they’re unassuming little things. Small, cute little orange peppers that all but beg you to try them. Even a little backyard creature around here was fooled- one was bitten off the plant and then tossed aside right near it with one teeny little bite mark. I feel bad for that poor rabbit or squirrel. I hope they had some sour cream or whole milk laying around to soothe the burn!
So basically, I was at a loss as to what to do with my Habanero’s. And as they grew & grew, I started to think more about them, and when I realized I’d get way more than one or two this season, I started to really think. There are tons of hot sauce recipes out there, and they’re all awesome sounding. Especially one by Rick Bayless. But I wanted more than just a hot sauce recipe that would make 8 jars of super hot sauce that only I would eat. Plus, isn’t that what everyone would do with hab’s? So cliched. But then… then I found out about this Habanero jelly from the meaning of pie. Habanero jelly, made with sugar. Hot & sweet? Sounds good to me. Not too much crazy mouth-burning heat? Sounds even better, as I can give it as gifts. I quartered this recipe and used quilted 8 oz. jelly jars, which gave me a total of two jars (or 16 ounces). Don’t ask about the math or how that worked out like that. It just did.
Upside down jars..
Right side up jars!
All labeled & ready to go…
HABANERO JELLY (courtesy of the meaning of pie)
- ½ cup habanero pepper, seeds and stems removed (please wear gloves while doing this!)*
- 1 apple, peeled and cut up**
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 5 cups sugar
- 1-½ packets Certo liquid pectin (6 oz.)
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
*I quartered the recipe, so I used about 2 habaneros, the full recipe would need 8-9.
**With the apple, I literally peeled it, cored it, halved & then halved it again and used one quarter of it.
- In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize six 8 oz. jars. Leave the jars in the water until you are ready to use them. You will need tongs or other long grabbing device to remove them from the hot water.
- Place the habanero peppers and apple in a food processor. Add the vinegar and process until fine.
- In a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, combine the processed peppers and apples, water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute (it takes about 15 minutes to get it to simmering and an additional minute to get it to boiling on my stove). Take abundant care at this stage. You need to be present to adjust your stove as the syrup bubbles. It can quickly boil over which is not only exceptionally dangerous, but very messy.
- Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the lids and screw bands in a small bowl. Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
- After the syrup has boiled for one minute, remove it from heat and stir in the pectin. Then, return to heat and boil one minute longer.
- Remove the mixture from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Using a wooden spatula or other tool, skim off any foam or white film that accumulates on top. Use a light hand when doing this, as a large proportion of the peppers tries to get stuck in the foam. Removing too much of the pepper bits will reduce the heat of the jelly. Stir in chopped rosemary.
- Ladle the jelly into sterilized jars. Wipe the rims of the jars and dry the lids and screw bands. Seal the jars. Place sealed jars upside down on a towel. Leave them inverted for approximately 20 minutes and then turn them upright. To distribute the peppers and rosemary equally, turn the jars occasionally until the jelly sets.
The coolest thing was that the peppers & the rosemary both came from my own garden (yes, the photo up there is my hab plant, and those perfect little habanero’s are actually mine!). What a feeling of accomplishment that is.
After making that jelly, I brainstormed another. I ended up with 6 more hab’s not long after and I needed to use them up. I decided to make something even sweeter, a little tangy-er, a little more like a salsa/jelly hybrid. I decided after doing some research to use pineapple. Pineapple & habanero is a fantastic combination. Of course, the pineapple did not come from my garden, it came from Dole. I’m not giving that recipe because it needs a little work & a little tweaking. It was delicious, but needs something else. But if you’re a habanero fan who likes to make jellies, you can probably figure out how to make it without my instructions. Anyway I still had a habanero (actually two) left over, so I made some hot pickle chips, except I didn’t make them into chips, just halves. What can I say? I had to. I had to make pickles. One jar I cut off the ends, the other I left them on. I’m curious to see the difference in texture, since I’ve always read that the blossom ends left on make a mushy pickle. Hmm. We shall see!
Marc’s spicy pickle chips recipe can be found here!
One little phrase of valuable advice: when cutting hot peppers, wear gloves. Thick gloves. Do not cut hot peppers without gloves on. And if you’re really sensitive, wear goggles. No shit. I also recommend you have unflavored vodka nearby just in case you get any pepper on your body. Alcohol dissolves the capsaicin (so do fats, like high-fat sour cream & whole milk, which you could also use). Regular hand soap will not help you. Trust me on this one. If you do happen to get it on your hands or arms, soak ‘em in vodka or milk for a while, rinse, repeat, and then wash them. You shouldn’t smell the pepper smell or sense a ‘burning’ anymore. Also, thoroughly clean your blender/food processor. The last thing you want is to make a smoothie or grind up some almonds & get a nasty surprise.
I haven’t tried the rosemary Habanero jelly yet, but supposedly spread on a Triscuit with cream cheese, it’s divine. My mother tells me the pineapple-habanero one is terrific with tortilla chips; surprisingly sweet as well as hot.
As far as the pickles.. well… They’re really hot (and aren’t mushy, either). Tears came to my dads eyes. So unless you really love hot stuff, it might be a bit much. Maybe use half a hab in each jar? The sugar really balances the other two of these recipes out, so give them a shot with all those Habanero’s you probably have ready to go in your garden! I promise, you won’t need to drink a half-gallon of milk afterwards.