In late summer, when the sun is strong and bright, all peppers begin to blush with color. Whether sweet or hot, every variety of capsicum relies on the warmth of soil and sun to ripen and turn red, orange, yellow or purple. The heat brings out the flowers, too, so the plants use this last burst to produce like mad. If you garden or have a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share, you know the pleasure — and the challenge — of the bounty.
Enter the pickled pepper: a briny, crunchy, brightly colored snack that bumps up the interest quotient in any meal. This is a refrigerator pickle, with no canning necessary. In fact, the heat of a boiling-water canner plays havoc with the crisp factor, so this recipe works only when the results are kept cold.
The ratios are immutable. One part vinegar to one part non-chlorinated water. One tablespoon of salt for each quart of liquid. After that, it’s up for grabs. Any vinegar will do; experiment with rice wine and fruit vinegars. Add a garlic clove, pickling spice, dill seed, Indian whole spices, pink or Sichuan peppercorns, sugar or honey, citrus zest. The accompanying recipe will get you started: Think of it as a road map.
Preparation of the pickle is paramount. Slice off the stem and green skirt (the top, at the base of the stem) unless the pepper is just-this-minute picked. Wilting stems don’t look or feel appealing when pickled. Keep snacking peppers, a.k.a. Yummy Peppers, whole. If you’re a heat-seeker, do the same with jalapeños. Pierce peppers with the business end of a paring knife to encourage the brine to seep into the middle of the each pepper in the jar. Core with a small spoon or scoop to extract the seeds, if you wish. I remove them just before serving because the seeds carry flavor, too. Whole pickled peppers are a flavorful, textural addition to any meal.
Jalapeños, sliced into rings, are convenient for scattering over scrambled eggs, tacos and burritos or stirring into corn bread batter. Serranos work as rings, although I prefer them in strips for sneaking into quesadillas and tortas.
Play with this recipe to find your personal pickled pepper, the one you prefer. Then pop a few jars in the refrigerator; the peppers last a month or longer (in my experience, the rings and strips hold up longer than whole peppers), and, although it seems impossible, we’re getting awfully close to that pickled-pepper-friendly, post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.
Canning Class appears twice a month. Barrow’s first cookbook, “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (W.W. Norton), will be published this fall. She blogs at www.mrswheelbarrow.com. She will join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at live.washingtonpost.com.
More from Food: