Hot pepper season is on. It is time to preserve the red, yellow, green, small, large, mild or hot peppers that have been growing in the garden all summer. These tips will help turn your peppers, whatever the variety, into pickled peppers. You may use any combination of peppers and even add some dried cayenne or other super hot peppers if you want to make the flavor complex.
I cannot think of pickled peppers without hearing the tongue twister in my head — Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers… This maybe more information than you want to know but this will swim around in my head dodging the words that I am trying to type while I write this — like background music, but irritating. I do know that you have all been there—the show tune that won’t leave.
This post is about brine pickling peppers, which means that the peppers will be submerged in salt brine you make and add to the peppers. So let’s start with making a good brine. Making a great pickle starts with a high quality brine and this begins with the water. Make sure your water is un-chlorinated. The chlorine can inhibit fermentation. The other ingredient is salt. Use a high quality unrefined salt. No need to use kosher pickling salt; these salts are highly processed and contain anti-caking agents which are not only not needed but are not as healthy and tasty.
Always make a little more brine than you will need as sometimes during the most active first few days of fermentation some of your brine may bubble over and you will want to top off. Be sure to store the extra un-fermented brine in the refrigerator; it will keep for about a week.
If you want to add vinegar for flavor — wait. Don’t add any vinegar to the brine until after fermentation. The salt solution is perfect for promoting lactic-acid fermentation. Acetic acid (vinegar) too early in the process can impede the fermentation. Add any vinegar later in the process as recipes suggest.
• 1 gallon of un-chlorinated water
• ½ cup unrefined salt
Mix well. Note: some unrefined salts do contain a few trace minerals which do not dissolve and will leave a little sediment on the bottom.. (I am thinking of Redmond Real Salt specifically.) That is okay.
Pickled hot peppers have a lot of flavor on their own. You can pickle them in the brine just as they are. If you want to add some flavors whole garlic cloves, whole coriander seeds, whole cumin seeds are wonderful choices, but I invite you to think of your favorite spice combinations and have fun. I have placed a handful of mint sprigs in pepper pickles for a wonderful flavor juxtaposition of cool and hot.
1. Pack the peppers tightly into a crock or jar to just under the shoulder of the jar. If using large whole peppers, wedge these under the shoulder of the jar (this helps keep them below the brine). If using slices you can use a grape leaf or weight to help keep them under the brine.
2. Pour in the brine to cover the peppers completely. In a jar this may be quite close to the rim; in a crock you’ll need to leave room for the follower. (Remember: Submerge in brine and all will be fine.) Reserve any leftover brine in the fridge (it will keep for a week; discard thereafter and make a new batch if needed).
3. Place a weight on top of the ingredients to hold everything under the brine.
4. Set the ferment on a plate on your kitchen counter or somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight in a cool area. Anywhere that is between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit will work, but the cooler the better. Ferment for the time indicated in the recipe. Note: The plate will catch any brine that bubbles out; discard the liquid.
5. During the fermentation period, monitor brine level and top off with the reserved brine solution if needed, to cover. You may see foam on top; it is harmless, but if you see mold, scoop it out. Veggies peeking up out of the brine will quickly get soft, and spoil. If you see anything even a tiny bit out of the brine, just poke it back under with a utensil. If it has been out for a while and has softened or has yeast on it (white film), then pluck it out.
How long does this sit on the counter? At least a week — you will see the brine becoming cloudy and that is a good sign. You will also smell the distinctive smell of sour pickle developing. You can store them in the refrigerator as soon as they have soured (the magic number is acidity below 4.6 ph), but you will know when they are pickled. For more flavor development ferment longer — 2 or 3 weeks or even 2 or 3 months. Peppers are interesting in that the longer they ferment the more complex the flavors become as different aromas develop.
Enjoy the process and the flavor!
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life — but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen.
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