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Simple Pickled Jalapeños: Lovely Summer Heat All Year ‘Round

Tres Jalapeños

While summer is in full swing there are plenty of fresh chile peppers available. My garden is keeping me swamped to the gills well supplied with jalapeños, serranos, cayennes, and habaneros. Even the types where I have only one bush, which include cubanelle, hot banana and cherry bomb chiles, are yielding plenty of goodies, and will continue until first freeze.

The jalapeño peppers I planted aren’t the larger-sized fruit variety. Instead, they put on clumps of chiles, sometimes as many as 8, and look a lot like some of the ornamental varieties, although with plumper fruit. The bushes themselves aren’t above two feet tall. I picked down the plants a few days ago, as they were beginning to bend down from the weight of produce. I wound up with about five pounds of nice, deep-green peppers, with a few that were changing (looked rather purplish) and a handful of deep red ones. These chiles were about the length of the end joint of your thumb.

Time to make some pickles!

It’s unbelievably easy to pickle jalapeño peppers. Even if you want to can them for shelf storage, as I do. (I want that summery goodness available all year!) First, wash the peppers and cut a couple of small slits in each one; three slits if you’re using larger fruit. The slits allow the brine to penetrate the peppers easily. A pointed paring knife makes quick work of this step. I also cut up some carrot and onion pieces; not a lot, just enough to make the veggie mix colorful and interesting. I’m mostly after pickled peppers here, not giardiniera or hot mix.

By the way, this process works with most any small pepper you might have: serranos, Caribes, Fresnos and so on. I’ve not tried habaneros, though; there be dragons

I grabbed out the canning gear and some pint jars and got all the hardware cleaned and ready. Meanwhile, in my jelly pot I put the following ingredients:

  • 1 ounce sugar
  • 1½ ounces pickling (canning) salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup pickling-strength white vinegar (9% acidity)
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic

Some notes about the ingredients for the pickling brine. Be sure to use a salt that has no iodide, as iodide can cause discoloration during shelf storage (unless the room is always kept completely dark and cool; and even then they may darken over time). Use white (distilled) vinegar, as cider vinegar can darken or become cloudy over time. Why use stronger vinegar if I’m going to dilute it? Cost; I got a big jug of 9% for almost the same price as a similar bottle of 5%, and I don’t mind saving a buck or two. However, if you can’t find the stronger vinegar, no problem; just go with an equal volume of 5% vinegar and water. I also skipped using oil, although that’s possible.

I simmered the brine for a few minutes, to guarantee that the salt and sugar dissolved and the spices had a chance to release some of their magical components. I kept the cleaned jars in the oven at about 225° F, and when the time came to fill the jars I can grab out two or three with a hot-pad and they’re ready to go.

Once the canner was bubbling merrily along on the back burner I quickly filled the jars with veggie mix and pressed them down to be sure I had as much product in each jar as I could get in without crushing. Then I ladled the very hot brine over and used a chopstick to be sure all air bubbles were out. After topping off to the required headspace level I put on the flats and rings and processed according to FDA guidelines. The finished pickles need to rest in the pantry for at least a week for the brine to do its work. Oh, you can eat some before then, but they may not be quite what your expect.

What if you don’t want to can these lovelies? You can store in the fridge, although you may wind up like David Lebovitz. Starting with several pounds of chiles you’ll have a lot of pickles in the coldbox, and unless you eat a bunch each day you may run up against a time crunch: These pickles should only be stored cold (unprocessed) for a few weeks. After that they can go bad, and then they’re not only terrible eats, they may become unsafe to consume.

If you don’t have a garden, grab some jalapeños from the produce section at your grocer’s and make pickles anyway! Right now, good quality peppers are available for under a buck a pound most places; a tasty bargain, if you ask me. These canned goodies can be enjoyed all year round, on tacos or fajitas, in soups, or simply “on the side” with most every meal. And you’ll be laughing at those poor guys who don’t have any peppers in January, and can’t buy them for love or money…

Enjoy the (Classic Pickled Chiles) Heat!

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