“$20 a jar?! This better be some AMAZING stuff,” I thought as I handed over my cash at the supermarket in Grand Cayman yesterday. During dinner with some islanders the night before I’d asked what local product they take with them when they visit friends and family abroad. It’s a question that I find gets you much better answers than if you ask what you should buy as a souvenir, because then they just rattle off a list of all the usual touristy stuff. But when you ask what THEY buy, now that’s when you hear about the really good stuff.
Anyway … I’d posed the question and the unanimous response was pepper jelly. Really?
Apparently the condiment is a cult favorite here. Though none of my companions could recall the brand name (“Just look for Cayman pepper jelly in the mason jar”), everyone could rave about its spicy-sweet taste, and there was no shortage of suggestions on how to use it: as a topping on grilled fish; mixed with chicken stock and used in a stir fry; or simply dolloped on top of a cracker with cheese. Which is how I found myself paying than I ever have for a mere condiment.
Making of the jelly is a “one-woman weekend operation” by Caymanian Carol Hay, who uses Scotch Bonnet peppers and 15 other ingredients in her signature secret recipe, producing about 36 jars a week. Even though it’s made without preservatives the jelly needs no refrigeration. As the label says, it “never lasts long enough to expire.”
Sampling it with cheese and crackers this evening I was impressed. I liked the distinct flavor of the peppers and the fact that as soon as your tastebuds register the heat they’re immediately soothed by a wave of sweetness. Like most things here in the Cayman Islands, the condiment isn’t cheap. But for those with discriminating palates and deep pockets, it’s worth every penny.