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Coral Snake Peppers (They Bite)

Red and Yellow

A long, hot growing season means the garden produces a plethora of peppers. (Maybe even two plethoras.) It’s a tasty embarrassment of riches, it is. For example, I have eleven cayenne pepper plants. Yep, I overdid it at the Home Depot Garden Center. I tried to get four Golden Cayennes, but apparently the supplier got their seeds mixed. I also wanted eight “standard” cayenne bushes, but one of them died so I bought another. Only it turned out to be a cubanelle (more on that later). Similarly, I had one habanero plant turn roots-up early, so I took a chance on a hot banana pepper plant.

All these peppers have produced beyond my wildest expectations. (Not dreams; no, I don’t dream about these chiles, I get nightmares. The mounds of red, green and yellow come pouring off the counters and bury me alive. Could be a Hollywood release soon!) The cayennes (all red, no goldens) have given us enough fruit to redecorate our whole domicile with lanyards of drying chiles. The cubanelle has produced over four dozen large, sweet peppers already, and is still going strong. Meanwhile, the banana pepper stands like this two-foot-tall beacon of bright yellow in the corner of the habanero patch. (The orange chile producers are plotting banana’s demise, as he’s making the whole habanero tribe look bad by comparison.)

So on one long stretch of countertop there was this big, yellow mound, and on another area a larger pile of deep red. I told PJ it was a dire situation. Not so much because of the quantity, but because in Boy Scouts I learned that “red and yellow kill a fellow.” The coral snake ditty, you see. And I was clearly overwhelmed with red and yellow.

That’s when the little grey cells kicked on and said, “Coral Snake Peppers!” Brilliant. Time to get pickling!

I got out the gear, set up the canner and started madly slicing cayenne and hot banana peppers into rings. I know a lot of recipes for pickling peppers, and I chose an easy one:

  • Three cups of distilled (white) vinegar
  • Two cups water
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt; the non-iodized variety
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of pickling spice
  • 1 teaspoon each of celery seed and yellow mustard seed
  • 4 cloves garlic, lightly mashed and peeled, then roughly chopped

Two key points. First, uniodized salt is called for, as iodide can be oxidized to iodine molecules by light. What’s the problem? Color; lots and lots of brown color, over time. Same with the vinegar. Using cider vinegar (my usual choice) can also cause the solution and pickles to darken over time. It’s especially true with those cider vinegars that use added color to make them up; and yes, lots of apple cider vinegar really isn’t! Instead, it’s distilled vinegar with added color, like caramel. Many of those color materials aren’t long-term shelf stable.

With the canner simmering and the jars hot (I chose half-pints), I started boiling the brine ingredients (everything on the list except for the garlic) and filling jars with proto-pickles. I stuffed each jar full of chile slices to about ½ inch from the top, pressing them down to fill each jar as tightly as I could without crushing the fruit. After the brine had boiled lightly for a few minutes I quickly ladled hot brine into the jars. I used a chopstick to poke around in the pickles, causing air bubbles to float to the top. I checked to be sure there was an appropriate headspace (about 3/8 inch), so the jars would seal properly. I divided the garlic across the top of the chile slices, then I topped off with hot brine, added flats (remember to soften the sealant!) and rings, then placed the jars into the waiting canner.

A short ten minutes later the pickles were ready.

By layering in the pepper slices by color I got some very pretty jars of preserves: bands of red and yellow touching each other, just like on the skin of a coral snake. In a few days they’ll be ready to eat on sandwiches, nachos, salads and more. I just hope that red-and-yellow doesn’t turn into a fatal attraction

Enjoy the (Beautiful, Biting) Heat!

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