H ere comes pepper season, that sweet and fiery window
of late summer flavor. In the coming weeks, legions of
angular, shiny fruits will adorn pepper plants in every
color of the rainbow. As nutrient-rich as they are
delicious, hot peppers also trigger an endorphin rush
in your brain that's chemically related to runner's high
and heroin's kick. Yes, the pepper is truly a friend
of the people. Consequently, the people have helped spread
peppers from their native South America to everywhere
else, especially Asia.
I like to eat peppers every day of the year. And I like
my peppers local. So before the season whizzes by in
a capsicum haze of chiles rellenos and ema datse, I must
stock up. This annual effort to squirrel away my yearly
pepper needs has led me to something very special: the
Me without my pickled peppers would be like Eddie Van
Halen without his guitar. But being a pickled pepper
star isn't all groupies and glory. It takes a year of
work to amass a year's supply. Pepper seeds, ordered
in winter, take all spring and summer to mature. Garlic
must be planted in fall for inclusion in next year's
pickled pepper jar.
Alternatively, you can go down to the Farmer's Market
and get what you need there.
As our native predecessors prided
themselves on using every part of their kill, so too
do I use the entire contents of that pepper jar. The
peppers themselves, whether garnished or co-munched (chewed
together with your food), provide savory acidic counterbalance
to the rich, fatty foods we love. Sometimes I pickle
carrots in the jar with peppers, and those carrots are
great for co-munching too, having picked up the heat
from the peppers. A bite of food, a bite of carrot ...now
Meanwhile, many a great meal begins with chopped bacon
in a pan, followed with chopped pickled peppers. And
a pour of pepper-jar vinegar, tangy and sweet and speckled
with floating mustard seeds, improves almost any marinade.
My current darling jar is a combo I call hotties and
sweeties. It contains hot, red Arledge chili peppers
and sweet Klari Baby Cheese peppers, which look like
orange tomatoes and taste like candy. The only drawback
of the hotties and sweeties is the fact that the minute
you crack the lid, the contents fly out of the jar into
the mouths of ravenous bystanders. You must guard them
with your life.
If you don't have these particular varieties of pepper
at your disposal, don't despair. When I give you a recipe,
what I'm really offering is the truth behind the recipe.
It's your job to play with this truth and tweak it to
your liking. There are a lot of peppers out there and
much research to be done. Come January, you can order
your Arledge and Klari Baby Cheese seeds from Fedco Seeds.
(Johnny's Seeds has a great selection of peppers, too,
In the meantime, there are many hotties and sweeties
you can substitute for my choices. Hotties should be
red, with the stocky, fleshy build of a jalapeno. Sweeties
should be vine-ripened and juicy, never green.
In addition to your peppers, you need the following
things to pickle them:
A large canning pot
Mason jars, ideally quart or pint, with lids and rings
Yellow and black mustard seeds
*Note: As with all kitchen endeavors, it is recommended
that you wash your hands after using the restroom. With
peppers it is recommended – especially for men – that
you wash your hands before as well
as after. That pepper juice can really sting...
Wash the peppers. On a clean cutting board, cut off
the tops, just below the leafy collar. Hotties and small
sweeties can be left whole. Cut the larger sweet peppers
into halves, quarters or slices. Put the peppers in a
big bowl and sprinkle with salt – about 3 tablespoons
per gallon of peppers. Stirring and draining occasionally,
let the bowl sit for a few hours in a cool place while
the salt pulls moisture from the pepper flesh.
Pack your peppers into clean, sterilized Mason jars,
with a few raw cloves of garlic per jar. Leave about
3/4 inch of “head space” between the top of the peppers
and the rim of the jar. Add a tablespoon each of yellow
and black mustard seeds per quart. Meanwhile, bring a
50/50 mixture of cider vinegar and water to a simmer.
I like cider vinegar because it could be local, even
if it isn't. And, it makes the best-tasting pickles.
Sweeten the syrup with sugar, until it tastes a little
sweet. Pour the hot syrup into the jars, covering the
peppers but still leaving 1/2 inch of head space.
Wipe the rims, put the lids and rings on the jars, and
process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove,
cool and store in a cool dark place.
Repeat until you have more than 100 quarts. It still
won't be enough.