When Pat Kiernan cooks, she uses spice, peppers, ingenuity and native recipes to bring a little bit of Jamaica to tables on the South Shore.
For nearly 15 years, Kiernan has been serving up beef stew, shrimp creole, jerk chicken and other Caribbean dishes through her Weymouth-based catering company Stir It Up, all with a secret ingredient that she’s now jarring and selling to the world: her sweet heat pepper jelly.
“What I’m trying to get into people’s heads is that this isn’t just a product to eat with cream cheese,” she said. “This is a culinary product that every pantry should have to really make your dish pop.”
When Kiernan moved to America from Jamaica, she was just 19 years old and desperately missed the flavors of home, she said. She loved the pepper jelly her family made, and said she spent 20 years calling her brother and asking him to send her jars through the mail.
“He finally looked at me and said, ‘Pat, make it yourself,’” Kiernan said, laughing. “I thought, ‘Boy, you are mean,’ but then he sent me a recipe and I started getting more and more curious. . . I made it different and I made it my own.”
Kiernan started taking her first jelly – the original sweet heat – to farmers markets in Roslindale and Boston around 2010, and she said people loved what she had to offer. It was then that she got curious about how to elevate her jelly, and decided to try to merge her favorite tropical flavors with the traditional Scotch bonnet pepper base.
“It took me forever to get the orange-mango flavor right,” she said. “You had to figure out what amount of liquid would gel, what ratio you wanted, how long to boil it and yada yada. And every time I messed up I crumbled up my paper and threw it. But I finally got it.”
From there, she went on to develop six total flavors: original, extra hot, orange mango, pineapple guava, sweet grape and lime. And despite her initial trial and error, she now has her line down to a science.
Kiernan said pepper jelly is traditionally slapped on a cracker with cream cheese, and while there’s nothing wrong with the traditional snack, she wants people to know that her jelly is far more than an easy appetizer.
When customers pick up a jar of her jelly, she also sends them home with a pamphlet on ideas for how to cook with it and recipes that include a crab salad — made with the lime zest jelly — and a seashore salmon, which is cooked in the orange/mango flavor.
Though she’s largely expanded her online presence, Kiernan still hauls her jellies to farmer’s markets across the region, particularly in the summer months and around Christmas. On a busy market weekend, she’s now selling out of up to 45 cases of 12 — 540 total — jars of jelly, and it’s all still made by hand in slow batches in a Weymouth industrial kitchen.
Seriously — she seeds peppers, peels grapes and juices limes by hand.
“I refuse to do it any other way. I can’t get the flavor I like in big batches, and that’s why it’s such a specialty product,” she said. “I’m not a Stonewall Kitchen, I’m just a little artisan cook who happened to hit upon something people like.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.