Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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favorite pickled peppers

Mostly I like simple preserves that do just that (preserve the awesomeness of in-season food) and very little more. I generally like stuff that I can use as an ingredient in the winter—whole fruit, dried vegetables, stuff like that. Pickled peppers, though, are kind of an exception for me.

I LOVE pickled peppers. My lizard brain seems to consider them a finished product, not an ingredient or a menas to an end—I will start making a sandwich and end up eating pepperoncini straight out of the jar. I crack the door of the fridge in the middle of the night, fork in hand, like a pepper-seeking missile. Spicy or sweet, whole or sliced, if it’s a pepper and it’s pickled, I’m there.

This is my favorite all-purpose pepper pickling spice mix. This works with whole peppers or sliced ones, with lots of heat or none at all. The finished peppers will go with everything (or nothing, if you’re like me). 

All-purpose pickled peppers

First, prepare your peppers. Try to choose thick-fleshed, firm-skinned varieties for pickling—they will hold up to the canner’s heat without going too mushy. Try a pinch of calcium chloride (sold as PickleCrisp), too, if you want, to keep them extra-crisp. Ultimately, the better condition the peppers are in, the nicer the pickle they’ll make, so make sure to get fresh peppers in good condition.

Good varieties: Santa Fes, cherry bombs, Cubanelles, wax, banana, etc.

If you are using long peppers (these are Hungarian Hot Waxes), slice them into rings about 1/3” wide. Push out the centers and seeds (or don’t, depending on how spicy you like them). If you are using small whole peppers, trim their stems close and either cut a small X in each pepper’s bottom, or punch a couple holes in each one with a toothpick.

Prepare your spices: for each 1/2 pint jar, gather 1/4 tsp each fennel seed, yellow mustard seed, and coriander seed. Add a pinch of cumin seed, a few black peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a peeled clove of garlic.

Prepare your brine: for every total pint, bring 1/3 cup water and 2/3 cup white vinegar (5% acidity) to a boil. Stir in 2 teaspoons each canning salt and white sugar. Keep hot.

Sterilize your jars, lids and rings. Pack peppers and spices into hot jars, firmly and densely, to within 1/4” of the rim. Pour boiling brine into each jar.

If you are using pepper rings, a quick shimmy of the jar will be enough to break out air pockets. If you’re using whole peppers, though, you’ll need to get the peppers to siphon liquid into their interiors: Press on all the peppers with the back of a wooden spoon to force some air out of them and get them to drink brine back in. Repeat a couple times, topping up with brine as necessary.

Wipe rims and sides, seat lids and rings, and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath for half pints or pints of rings; 10 minutes for whole peppers.

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