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Cowboy Candy, Ideal for Nachos (and Pretty Much Everything Else)


Sliced jalapeños that have been pickled are a staple for many snacks and meals. While many think “Mexican food” when they consider pickled jalapeños, Americans likely consume tons more of the tasty preserves than any other country. Go to a ball game, or the movies; the nachos stand is always popular! And what bowl of cheese and chips would be complete without those deadly green circles on top?

Swim meets, backyard cookouts, or watching football on the telly; all need some zest, some zing. Pickled pepper slices will certainly fill the bill.

Ordinary jalapeño slices can seem plain, even mundane, in many dishes. Enter the candied jalapeño slice, a truly genius innovation. Also known as Cowboy Candy, these sweet gems are a true taste treat. Even PJ, an avowed zest-averse spouse, likes a few candied jalapeños on our homemade nachos. (I haven’t converted her to using them as an ice cream topping yet; but we’ve only been together for 25 years or so, I’ve barely gotten started with her.)

Cowboy Candy is very easy to make too. Some preparations use sugar, water and a bit of seasonings. However, the best of these jalapeño chips are made using garden-fresh pepper slices, cider vinegar and flavored with garlic, cayenne powder, celery seed and turmeric. This way the tidbits are properly pickled and will store longer in the fridge or on the pantry shelf.

SerranoI am completely swamped have a goodly supply of fresh green chiles, including serranos and cayennes. I picked a few quarts of jalapeños from my four bushes this week, so I decided to make my own Cowboy Candy. I wanted them a bit zestier, so I made sure about a quarter of the sliced chiles were serranos. (No cayennes; I like heat, but I’m not stupid.) I had about three pints or so of chile slices, so I used 1 1/3 cups of cider vinegar and 4 cups sugar to make the syrup. I used a half teaspoon each of turmeric and celery seed, a full tablespoon of garlic powder, and a teaspoon of fresh cayenne powder. First I simmered the syrup for a few minutes, to be sure the sugar was dissolved and the spices had time to flavor the juice. I put in the chile slices next, and simmered for only four minutes. Any more than that and the pickles would begin to cook apart.

I retrieved the pickles from the syrup using a slotted spoon, transferring them to half-pint jelly jars. I topped off the jars with extra syrup. Because they’re hot, I covered loosely with canning flats and let the pickles cool. I topped off again once the jars were cool, put on plastic screw tops and put in the refrigerator. I could have processed them for long-term storage, but three half-pints won’t last that long! They’ll keep fine in the chill-box.

A couple small tricks. Put in a drop of two of green food coloring to keep the pickles from looking too yellow (a dun camo-green). I also cooked (in a separate small pot) a few slices of red, ripe jalapeños and serranos in some of the syrup (with a drop of red food coloring). At the end I combined all the pickles, stirred to provide a bit of color throughout the mixture, and then stored.

I’ll let these pickles mellow for a few days, then it’ll be time for a nice, big batch of nachos for dinner. With some on top of a bowl of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, just because. Time to find that fire extinguisher…

Enjoy the (Chile Candy for Everything) Heat!


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