Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

This spring, my dad bought a few packs of sweet orange bell pepper plants. It turns out they were mislabeled. They were actually hot banana peppers.

Since my parents do not eat hot peppers, guess what?  Their loss was my gain.  Here's Anna stripping the plants of their bounty.

I've been pickling hot peppers on and off for about ten years.  It's actually quite easy.  Pickling is safer and easier than other types of canning.  The high acid environment of pickled products inhibits the growth of botulism-causing bacteria.  Therefore, you don't need a pressure cooker for processing.  My small batch took just over an hour from start to finish.  If you want to try it, here's what you'll need:

Pickled Hot Banana Peppers

7 pint jars
7 sealing lids
7 jar rings
hot banana peppers (about an ice cream bucket full), washed and sliced into rings (stems cut off)
7 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cleaned
6 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar

First wash your jars.  You can wash and sterilize your jars in one easy step in your dishwasher.  However, I never seem to time my dishwasher cycles right, so I just sterilize the old-fashioned way in boiling water.  I don't have a proper canner, so I use my big stockpot for sterilizing and processing.  Put a few inches of water in the bottom of your pot and flip the jars upside down.  Cover the pot and boil for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, start washing and slicing your peppers.  Warning:  Do not rub your eyes!  Ever!  You may want to wear gloves while slicing hot peppers because the oils get in your skin, and you can end up with burning skin for a few painful hours.  I usually take my chances, but one year, my hands were in so much pain I could hardly sleep.  Now I just try to avoid touching the seeds and juice as much as possible.  Frequently rinsing your hands also helps.

When the jars are sterilized, turn them upside down on a clean towel to dry for a bit.  Add more water to your canner (or stockpot, as the case may be), and bring it to a boil.  At this time, mix your brine in another large saucepan (6 cups white vinegar, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt, 1 tablespoon sugar), and bring it to a boil.  In a small saucepan, bring an inch or two of water to boil and then remove from heat.  Submerge your sealing lids in this hot water (the heat will help them seal better when you put them on your jars). 

When you are ready to pack your jars, add one to two cloves of garlic to each jar (depending on how big your garlic cloves are). 

Spoon in the sliced peppers.  Use the spoon to pack the peppers into the jars as tightly as possible.  Don't be afraid to press them down!  Leave about a half inch of head space at the top of each jar.

Pour boiling brine into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch head space in each jar.  Use tongs to remove the sealing lids from their hot water bath one at a time and place a lid directly on each jar.  Screw a ring onto each jar and tighten.  Place your jars into the boiling water in your stockpot and cover the pot.  Process the jars for 10 minutes (in altitudes above 6,000 feet, process for 15 minutes).

After processing, remove jars from the boiling water and allow to cool.  After the jars have cooled, check the lids to be sure each one has sealed.  Push down on the lid.  If it pops, it did not seal.  Jars that do not seal must be refrigerated and used first.  For best flavor, store jars for six weeks before using. 

Safety Tips for Pickling
- The level of acidity is essential for safety.  Never alter the vinegar/water quantities in a recipe. 
- Do not under-process your product.  Adhere to the processing times in a trusted recipe.  If you live at a high altitude, this will increase the required processing time.
- Cleanliness is very important.  Make sure everything you use has been washed thoroughly -- the counter, your tools, the produce, and of course all the jars, lids, and rings.  Sterilize your jars and keep the lids in hot water until the moment you put them on the jar.
- If you find a jar that lost its seal (the lid will "pop" when pushed) after it has been in storage, throw it out!

Uses for Pickled Hot Peppers
These pickled hot peppers are great in pasta salads and on pizzas.  I also use them in smoked salmon and cream cheese appetizers (take a Wheat Thin, spread cream cheese on it, add a piece of smoked salmon and top with a hot pepper slice).

Notes on Canning Jars
I don't buy canning jars.  I have inherited some from my mom.  Others were saved from foods I bought at the store.  If you have sealing lids and rings in your pantry, you can try them on an empty food jar before tossing the jar in the recycling bin.  For pint size jars, I have reused the jars from mayonnaise, sauces, salad dressing, and certain brands of jams and jellies.  Remember, you can reuse jars and rings, but sealing lids can only be used once. 

The pickling process I have been using for the last ten years comes from the Colorado State University Extension office.  I don't use the same varieties of peppers they describe, but otherwise I follow their pickled pepper recipe.  Also, they say that the pepper recipe will make 7 or 8 pints, but I consistently find that the brine is only enough for seven pints (and there is no extra!).  They also have an excellent list of food safety FAQs here.

1 comment:

  1. That looks absolutely.... pepperrific! :)
    I think I'd like to have pickled peppers as a side dish for something as simple as fried chicken... or a nice big steak, maybe! Heck, I'd have those peppers with anything!