The term “to pickle” means use “brine, vinegar, or spices to preserve or marinade.” It doesn’t have anything to do with dill or a specific combination of spices. Rather, it appears to have to do with the fact that the food items are “pricked” or infused with the solution. This results in unique flavors, depending on the creativity of the cook/chemist, that attempt to both enhance and alter the original taste of the food being processed. It is also likely to have the advantage of easy storage. Pickled foods don’t have to be heated (i.e. in water bath canning) for very long. Sauerkraut (such as the sauerkraut I made last year), in particular, doesn’t need canning, but can be kept in a cool location.
Even though I have made bread and butter pickles for many years, I had only tried making sauerkraut for the first time last year. It tasted different than pasteurized, store bought kraut so I might have to adjust my family to the homemade version gradually. I liked it in Rueben sandwiches. However, I am not generally a fan of strong flavors, so there was not any other pickling on my agenda. Not until my husband expressed an interest in trying pickled peppers.
Pickling hot peppers turned out to be the easiest pickling process of all so far. It seems to be the nature of peppers to be easy to preserve, no matter what the method! (You can read about the ease of freezing peppers here) Makes me wish I liked to eat them. Fortunately, I DO like to preserve them for my husband, and most of my (now grown) children like to try his fun foods with him.
We chose to use a basic recipe for our first pepper pickling. This means:
- enough washed peppers to fill 7 pint jars, 2 slits made in each pepper
- a vinegar (5% acetic acid) and water solution, proportionally half of each liquid, to cover peppers in jars
- salt to taste
Three jars were packed with jalapeños, both green and red. (For some reason jalapeños seem to grow quite hot in my garden, no matter which variety I grow. A number of guests have inadvertently ended up in pain. Dear husband thought the peppers tasted normal.) The other four jars were filled with hot paper lantern peppers, all orangish red. These peppers are a type of habañero that produces in a shorter amount of time and much more prolifically than the standard habañeros ever did. (I saved seeds from earlier pickings of these peppers) For this first try at pickling, I put ½ teaspoon of salt into the jars before adding the liquid. The vinegar solution (4 cups water to 4 cups vinegar was an almost perfect volume for this 7 pints) was heated to simmering, but not to boiling, because my resources said it was “volatile” if boiled. Then, the jars were filled to ½ inch from the rim. Nothing much sticky to get on the rims and interfere with the lids sealing, but I checked them with a finger swipe anyway.
The rubber lids were already soft from being in the initially boiling water for at least 3 minutes. With screw caps on, I happily put the 7 pint jars in my smaller water bath canner. Buying that smaller one was one of the best canning purchases ever. So much easier than trying to deal with small jars in the water bath canner made for quart jars. (I got my small canner at Walmart). Adjusting for our elevation above sea level, I brought the water to a rolling boil and then kept the jars in there for 14 minutes. All done after dinner and allowing for very proper bedtime.
The taste testing had to wait about 2 weeks. It finally happened when we had chicken burritos with black beans. At this time only hot paper lantern peppers were eaten. The verdict is:
- They taste like hot peppers. They were obviously softer to chew, but this seems like a good way to get authentic pepper flavor.
- Dear husband thought they would taste more like peperoncini, but said they didn’t in his opinion.
- They were definitely NOT too salty. He didn’t think they tasted bland, but he was not aware of any saltiness. He is undecided about adding more.
- We used apple cider vinegar, which is said to impart a mellower, fruity taste. The other option is white vinegar, which is supposed to give a sharper flavor. He wants me to try that next time.
- The 3 younger girls who were eating with us (ages 17, 19, and 22) all survived pepper tasting without any permanent numbing of their taste buds. For the record, they ate them on a completely voluntary basis. No coercion involved.
- He says he will eat them all.
My main 2 references for figuring out how to pickle our peppers were The Complete Book of Canningand Putting Food By. The first one is an Ortho book that has been my most valuable canning reference over the years. The second is newer to me. I find it useful to have around, but the authors seem even more paranoid than I am about cleanliness, which is hard to do. Most other books and recipes were trying to be more than basic, thus were complicated or strange. We might get more creative with pickling “our” peppers along the way, but I will probably never taste them. I will be satisfied with the smoke coming out of everyone else’s ears.