Back in the heat of August, I was talking chile pepper love with Kat, of Food, Literature, Philosophy, on Twitter. We were talking about our love of the spice and the various ways in which I incorporate chiles into fruit preserves: jam and jelly, syrup and preserves. Kat mentioned that she had been working lately with Jim, the farmer at Rushy Springs Farm near Knoxville, TN, who grows several different varieties of chile peppers, including his own open-pollinated version of a Tennessee Cherry Chile, which Kat talks more about here. Kat mentioned that Jim had a bunch of dried Tennessee chiles at the farm, that she was going to try to convince him to grind some up for chile powder, and if so, how would I like some? I just about fell over my keyboard in my haste to reply, “Yes!”
Kat was as good as her word, and a few weeks ago a vial of violently orange, violenty spicy-smelling, capcaicin-extraordinaire arrived in my mailbox. I ran up the driveway, waving the envelope over my head, yelling “The Tennessee Cherry Chile powder is here! The Tennessee Cherry Chile powder is here!“ OK, not really (but in my defense, our driveway is really steep). But I was definitely jumping up & down on the inside.
Somehow I had this apple chile syrup in my head the whole time: I wanted my first trial with the special Tennessee goods to be very spicy, but not painfully so; I wanted the contrast of some sweet with the spice; I wanted to showcase the incredible color, while keeping the food, you know, edible. Because let me tell you: this sucker is HOT. Or, as my friend Erik would say, HAWT. The aroma from the vial alone is enough to make you jump back, eyes watering, mucus membranes snapping shut in protest: it’s capcaicin heaven. Add all that glorious heat to a slightly sweet, sligtly tangy, cooked-way-down apple syrup? Oh, my.
It’s lovely straight up: dip a spoon in the jar and sample away. The spice hits you, but is almost instantly followed by the sweet, so you don’t have time to be ‘burnt’ by the heat. Then you get just a bit of that smoky/peppery chile flavor, followed by the real heat on a slow, slow burn. Nature is amazing: how she packs so much flavor into three simple ingredients is beyond me. As good as this is straight from the spoon, I drizzled some on roasted chicken breast (bone-in, skin-on, old-skool) the other night: glorious. I’m seeing it over a fresh apple tart, a pork tenderloin, or added to a long, slow braise for just a touch of sweet & spicy. A dash will perk up granola, or a healthy spoonful will make seriously spicy (and delicious!) honey-roasted nuts. I want to toss it over sweet potato fries and drizzle onto ice cream. Oh, there are so many things: I think I need to make another batch.
- about 5 lbs apples (I used a Stayman-Macintosh varietal gifted to me by Julia)
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- filtered water
- 3/4 cup sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- 1/2 tsp screaming hot Rushy Springs Farm Tennessee cherry chile powder (gifted to me by Kat; you can find Jim and his gorgeous chiles at the Market Square farmer’s market in Knoxville on Saturdays throughout the growing season)
- pinch sea salt
- Wash & stem apples. Quarter and add to a large, wide stockpot (peels, cores & all) with 1 cup of cider vinegar. Add filtered water to just cover apples. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer until soft and just beginning to break down, about 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, lined with dampened cheesecloth, to collect juice. Push apple pulp through a food mill and reserve for this. Measure juice (I collected 8 cups) and return to the (rinsed) stockpot.
- Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Bring apple juice to a rolling boil over high heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Continue to boil over high heat, without stirring, until juice is reduced to about 1/4 of the original volume and becomes thick and syrupy, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and skim any foam. Whisk in chile powder and salt: I suggest starting with half the amount of chile powder, then taste & adjust (adding a touch of honey can tame the chile pepper heat if you’ve overdone it).
- Ladle hot syrup into hot jars to 1/4-inch headspace, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 2 and 1/2 cups.
- Any chile powder will suffice, but I suggest finding a smokin’ hot, freshly-ground chile pepper for the maximum enjoyment.
- You don’t need to add any sugar at all to this recipe, although this small amount will act as a preservative and it does help achieve a thicker syrup. Honey might be a nice option: I always like honey with chile pepper. You can of course increase the amount of sugar if you like a sweeter syrup.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.
Fall through winter.