Peter Piper probably never really picked a peck of pickled peppers, but, like most gardeners in peak season, he probably picked a peck and pondered pickling.
Peppers have to be picked before a hard frost softens them, and even the tiniest ones are tasty. That means that at this time of year, most gardeners have a lot more big and small ones than they know what to do with.
They're so easy to put up, though, that it's hard to have too many peppers. They're easy to freeze, and while they'll never again be crisp enough for salad, they'll flavor soups and sauces throughout the winter.
All you have to do to freeze them is cut them, seed them, spread them on cookie sheets and freeze them. Then pack them into freezer containers. If you're willing to work a little harder, though, and blanch them, you'll get a more flavorful result. Blanch the cut peppers in boiling water for two minutes, then cool and freeze them. The blanching will insure that the peppers don't pick up off flavors.
Be sure to keep sweet and hot peppers apart in blanching and freezing, or the hots will take over the turn the sweet ones fiery. Keep them separate and you keep your choice.
If you have a lot of hot peppers, you might want to put some up in sherry, just because it couldn't be easier. All you do is wash them, prick each one several times with a fork and pack them into clean, hot Mason jars. Fill the jars with sherry and keep them in the refrigerator. You'll have preserved hot peppers and a spicy hot sherry that's perfect for curries and hot Chinese food.
My grandmother Romano uses the same basic method to make vinegar peppers, a great family favorite. he uses red and green cherry peppers, washes them and packs them into quart jars. Then she adds a teaspoon of salt to each and fills them with vinegar. She stores them in a cool, dark cellar and they last all winter.
A friend of mine, who collects exotic pepper seeds from around the world and plants more kinds than I could name, does the smae with mixed peppers. Her jars of pepper pickles, full of red, yellow, orange, green, and mahogany peppers, look as pretty as stained-glass windows. She displays them like works of art.
Both my grandmother and my friend have been pickling peppers like this for years, and they both say the combination is too acid for botulism to flourish. They're both still alive, but if you don't have that kind of faith, put the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Pickled peppers are nice for anti-pasto, and they add a splash of color to any meal. If you want something a little sweeter and different, try making your red peppers as my mother-in-law does. She arranges them on baking trays and puts them in a hot oven, 450 degrees, until the skins have puckered and turned dark. Then she pulls off the skins, slices the peppers and dresses them with olive oil, vinegar and garlic. She puts them in jars in the refrigerator. They keep for weeks and taste better than any pimiento that you can buy.
If you get tired of eating peppers and putting them away, you can always take pictures of them. Famed photographer Edward Weston took a whole series of pictures of peppers with the light catching and bouncing off their sensuous curves.
Weston's photographs don't even look like peppers until you look closely. They look like universal curves. If you didn't know they were peppers, you might think they were pronography.