My friends and I have been pickling Hungarian wax peppers for the last two weeks. Feeling Peter Piper-ish, I conducted dutiful research into pecks of peppers (a peck translates to roughly two dry gallons) and into the well-known tongue twister, whose origin stems from an English pronunciation handbook that veritably sings the praises of assonance and alliteration. But, now that I’ve been through the process of pepper picking, preparing, brining, and bottling, I’m still a little perplexed. How could Peter Piper have possibly picked pickled peppers? Did he pick them out of a jar? Or were they raw peppers that he intended to pickle? In any case, I’m pretty sure we out-pickled his peck.
Below are detailed instructions for the pickling process. Though it may seem like a lot of text, the process is quite easy. No boiling or sterilizing required.
The brining process:
In a large non-reactive vessel (something plastic, like a five gallon mixing bucket from the hardware store, or a large ceramic crock), combine 3 gallons of white wine vinegar, 1.5 gallons of water, and 3 pounds of kosher salt.
Pick a peck (or two) of peppers… or buy/barter some from a local farmer. Wash peppers well to remove dirt and debris. Shake off excess water. Chop peppers into circles, about ¼” wide. (You may want to line up peppers into rows of two or three to expedite the chopping process. Chopping with friends is also helpful.) Discard tops, bottoms too small to worry over, and any portions of the pepper that appear to be mushy or compromised by bugs. Keep chopping until you amass a mountain of sliced peppers.
Next, slice a head of garlic into thin slivers. (Buying pre-peeled garlic is much easier and far less sticky than peeling each clove individually.) Garlic adds an aromatic quality to the peppers and develops a savory, toothsome texture as it ages in the jar. If you like garlic, don’t be shy – go for two or three heads per bucket. If you don’t like garlic, err on one head per.
Transfer peppers and garlic to the brining solution until the vessel reaches critical mass – the point at which it becomes difficult to stir. Common sense will dictate if you’ve put too many peppers into the mix. Don’t panic if you suspect you’ve put in too many. You can always fish out the overflow with a large bowl and transfer it to an additional brining vessel.
Allow brining mixture to rest for three or four days.
The bottling process:
Purchase one or two cases of quart-size bottling jars, and a good amount – a few gallons? – of corn oil. (We bought more than we needed and saved the receipts in case we had unused items that we could return.) Working with one case at a time, remove the lids from each jar and set the lids aside in a dry, clean place.
Set up a draining station by the sink. You will need a large, lightweight mixing bowl or spoon (for scooping peppers from the brine), a large colander or straining bowl (for draining the initial brine), and a couple of cooling racks, placed where any excess brine can drain (we placed ours adjacent to the sink). I highly recommend opening your windows or otherwise ventilating your workspace. My friends and I worked in teams to save time.
Scoop some peppers from the brining solution. Drain them over the sink, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Arrange the peppers so that they rest flatly on the cooling rack to remove as much of the brine as possible. Grab a jar. Gather several garlic slices to put at the bottom of the jar (they tend to naturally rest at the bottom). Start adding pepper slices. Shake the jar a few times as you fill it – this allows gravity to help the peppers settle, reducing air bubbles and maximizing the amount of peppers per jar. Fill to the top of the jar – about where the lid stops when it is tightly screwed on. Do not overfill. Set the jar aside and repeat.
If you have company, ask them to start filling the jars with corn oil – it speeds the process up. If you’re working solo, jar all the garlicky peppers and begin adding corn oil to each jar, allowing enough oil to cover the mixture. Then, take a fork and carefully tamp the peppers against the glass in an effort to remove air bubbles. Screw the lid tightly on the jar and repeat.
Later in the night or the next day, jostle the peppers in a gentle sideways swishing motion to suss any remaining air bubbles out. Allow peppers to cure for about two weeks.
We devoted about eight hours over two weeks, jarring upwards of 30 quarts of peppers – a full year’s supply for two households. Pickled peppers rock in martinis, salads, and pizzas. They are also delicious when served as an appetizer with cream cheese, sweet jelly, and crackers.
© 2013 Julia Moris-Hartley