Monday, September 6, 2010

Too Many Peppers

I like hot peppers but I'm not in love with them.  In fact, I like growing hot peppers more than I like cooking with them.  All the hot peppers that I've grown, including Jalapeños, Serranos, Chile Piquins, and Habaneros, have been beautiful plants.  Hot pepper plants are to a vegetable garden what American elm trees are to the northeastern forest - distinctive and attractive, with V-shaped profiles filled in by thousands of small, asymmetric leaves.  Hot pepper plants are well-adapted to the heat of the Austin summer and are able to thrive, even when the rest of the garden has wilted, on a few morning waterings a week.  Long after the tomatoes and eggplants have stopped producing because of heat exhaustion, and the basil has flowered and gone to seed to please the bees, the hot peppers are still going strong.

Despite my love for the plants, I'm not one of those cooks who throws hot peppers into everything.  Maybe it's because I grew up eating non-spiced food in a climate that was too mild for hot-pepper growing.  Or maybe it's because hot peppers require so much work, so much tedious slicing and de-seeding and mincing, just to produce the small pile of minced pepper needed for a stir fry.  After which, the knife, the cutting board, and my hands have to be thoroughly washed or I will manage to get hot-pepper oil on my face or in my eyes before the meal is finished.  I like hot peppers the best on weekend mornings, when I pick them fresh and hand them to Lee, who happily slices, de-seeds, and minces them as he makes our migas.

This year I only have two Serrano pepper plants, but they are producing more than we are cooking.  This weekend I realized that my plants were covered in red peppers.  Once the Serrano peppers turn red, they don't last long on the plant or in the refrigerator, so I knew it was time to pickle some peppers.

Pickled hot peppers are candy.  I know, I just explained how I'm not one of those people who are nuts about hot peppers.  I'm not.  Even so, I have to admit that pickled hot peppers are delicious.   I like to eat them in tacos, or in quesadillas, or straight from the jar.  And, what's more, hot peppers can be pickled and eaten whole, which means that de-seeding and mincing are not required.  Hooray.

Pickled Serrano Peppers

1 gallon Serrano peppers

The Brine:   (makes enough for about 16 half-pint jars)
4 cups water
4 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons pickling or Kosher salt
4-5 bay leaves

Spices for each Half-Pint Jar:
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and halved
6-12 black peppercorns
4-8 coriander seeds
2 rosemary leaves
pinch of: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and/or caraway seeds

Safety note about pickling recipes:  The ratios of the ingredients in the brine are important.  The brine recipe can be halved or doubled or tripled, as long as the ratios are maintained.  Using 5% vinegar, the ratio of vinegar to water should always be 1 to 1, with approximately 1 T of pickling salt and 1/2 T of sugar added for each cup of vinegar used.  The bay leaves in the brine and spices in each jar are for flavor, and can be adjusted or omitted based on taste preferences and/or what you have on hand. 

Pick fresh peppers the day that you plan to pickle them, especially if you are pickling red Serrano peppers.  The red peppers spoil quickly.  Wash the peppers and discard any that are damaged or soft.

Remove the stem and receptacle (the green cap that holds the stem to the pepper) from each pepper.  This is optional - you can safely pickle peppers with their stems on - but I found it easy to slip the green cap off each pepper with my fingers, and I prefer to eat stemless peppers.

Thoroughly wash and dry your canning jars.  Add the garlic and spices to each jar.

Using a paring knife, make a small slash in each pepper for vinegar absorption.  Pack the peppers into the canning jars.

In a non-reactive saucepan, make the brine by combining the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and bay leaves.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the peppers to cover completely.  Leave about 1/2 inch head space in each jar.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean and seal with clean rings and lids.

Process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.  If you are new to canning, please educate yourself about water-bath canning before proceeding.  A jar lifter will be very helpful for this!

Store in a cool, dark place for a week before consuming.  Refrigerate after opening.

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