I’m not really sure when it happened. At some point in my life I became hooked on heat. It was probably some gateway drug, over-the-counter stuff like Tabasco. A dash on some eggs, and then on a slice of pizza. I craved new sensations: Sriracha, chile verde, South Indian curries. My growing tolerance drove me to hotter and hotter peppers to chase that pony. Capsaicin truly is an addiction, as irrepressible as heroin, only more delicious.
Sugar tempers the pungency of the peppers’ kick, buffering the ability for the chemical to attack the nerve endings. Merging sweet and heat is the ultimate culinary slap and tickle, a velvet glove on capsaicin’s cruel hand.
Apples and peppers are fast friends, and complement each other well married together in a sweet-hot jelly. The sweetness of cider (and, uh, several cups of sugar) reduce even fiery habaneros to an almost subtle footnote. Almost. A nice, sharp cheddar is all that’s missing.
6 c. raw apple cider
5 c. sugar
1 packet pectin
2-3 habanero peppers
Put the cider in a large nonreactive pan and set over medium-high heat. Chop the peppers coarsely. Once the cider comes up to a simmer, add the peppers. Steep until you get the desired heat extraction; this should only take a couple of minutes. Strain the cider through cheesecloth (the more layers, the clearer your jelly; I don’t mind it a little cloudy), and return to the pan. Turn the heat back on.
Mix the pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar. Whisk into the cider thoroughly. Bring the cider to a full rolling boil. Add the sugar, stirring well to mix. Bring once again to a full rolling boil for one full minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, and skim away any foam. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8″ of headroom. Process using normal water-bath method.
Sean Timberlake is a professional writer, amateur foodie, avid traveler and all-around bon vivant. He is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts, and has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, DPaul Brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese.