So naturally I turned, as one does these days, to Twitter. I wasn't tweeting into the void, however. I called upon those I consider Southern food and preserves experts-- Nancie McDermott, Ronni Lundy, April McGreger, Marisa McClellan, and Travis Milton. Granted, most of them were likely not online at such a late hour, let alone worrying themselves about the origins of spicy preserves, but Travis and I ended up getting into a good discussion. He said he's also been curious and suspected the pepper variety was likely related to Corn Cobb Jelly-- a "making do/not wasting" sort of food. We both balked at the Texans' origin story, I suggested the potential influence of British aspics, and a friend from Louisiana chimed in, saying he thought pepper jelly originated in his home state.
We left it at that, but the next morning Nancie McDermott and Miriam Rubin both piped up, saying they figured hot pepper jelly to be a modern invention-- from the 1970s or 80s. Miriam said she remembered it from her days at Redbook magazine-- when the preserve was suddenly trendy, deemed Southern, and became all the rage to serve at dinner parties over saltines with cream cheese. We didn't end up verifying a true origin store with anything conclusive, but, like another contemporary Southern classic-- Pecan Pie-- I suspect both the "modern invention" and "old Southern roots" claims to be true, in a sense. Perhaps some Texans did invent the stuff in '78, but unless you're working in a chemical laboratory, food items don't generally appear out of thin air. There's always a precedent, a precursor, an aspic or a Corn Cobb Jelly to lay the foundation. Maybe we'll turn up some evidence of the real history eventually, but for now I'm content with that.
Either way, those Redbook gals from the 80s were right-- hot pepper jelly IS great with cream cheese and saltines, and these hand pies are a variation on that truth. Goat cheese lends a little more tang than cream cheese (and is better for those lactose-precarious folks like me!) and of course, puff pastry always takes things up a notch. You could use a regular pie pastry dough if you're pressed for time or don't want to mess with all that butter layering.
Pastry Pastry Hand Pies with Goat Cheese & Hot Pepper Jelly
Half-batch quick puff pastry (I used Ashley Rodriguez's recipe via Food52 but you can use store bought puff pastry, or your favorite pie crust recipe for 1 double-crust pie)
Hot Pepper Jelly (you'll use about 1/2 cup)
4 oz. soft, spreadable goat cheese
1 large egg, beaten + 1 Tablespoon whole milk or heavy cream (for brushing)
Coarse sea salt, for dusting
1. Prepare quick puff pastry as per the directions. Roll out on a clean, floured workspace and cut into squares (I used a 2-inch square cookie cutter).
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread about 1 Tablespoon goat cheese on half of all of the squares. Top goat cheese with a dollop (about 1 Tablespoon) of hot pepper jelly). Place empty dough squares on top of those with goat cheese and jelly. Seal edges with a fork and poke a hole in the middle for steam to escape.
3. Place hand pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops of hand pies with egg and cream wash. Dust with coarse sea salt and bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes, until pastry is puffed, flaky, and golden brown.
4. Remove from oven and let cool. Serve just warm.
Hot Pepper Jelly
Adapted from Preserving Made Easy via The Tiffin Box
Makes 2.5 cups
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely diced
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and finely diced
1 orange pepper, deseeded and finely diced
4 hot red peppers, deseeded (I used Thai chillies)
(Peppers should measure a total of 2 cups)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin
1. In a large pot, combine diced peppers, cider vinegar, and sugar. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, boiling hard for 1 minute. Stir in half-pouch liquid pectin, then boil again for 1 minute.
2. Take off heat and let cool completely, stirring occasionally. Cover and leave for 4-6 hours or up to overnight. This will keep the peppers from floating to the top when canning.
3. When ready to can, sterilize your jars (refer to proper canning guidelines, as in the Ball Blue Book) and lids. Bring the pepper jelly back to a boil and add the remaining half pouch of pectin. Boil for one minute, remove from heat, and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes. Ladle into sterilized hot jars, leaving 1 cm, of head space.
4. Place lids on top and screw bands "fingertip tight". Process jars in water bath canner (or follow instructions for whatever method you are using). Remove and let cool completely until jar tops pop. Jelly keeps at room temperature for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.
Cranberry Goat Cheese Tart with Almond Shortbread Crust
Cranberry Hand Pies
Gordy's Cherry Pepper Spread, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Galette
Spinach and Feta Fried Pies