As the last jars of fermented hot sauce from the last season come to an end I feel compelled to share the successes and failures in the hopes that readers that have not already, will do some experimenting of their own. First off I am certainly not a fermentation expert. There are many good books out there, and internet resources, on fermentation. I found the idea of fermentation compelling because of the health benefits, and also daunting because there is so much to know. The process I am sharing with you is very simple and safe; but, of course you must apply your good common sense when it comes to food.
This process began last year with the growing season. We chose a variety of hot peppers that turn red upon ripening. We did try a batch of green peppers as well with little success. We are an organic farm so our produce is free of chemicals and pesticides. You will want to harvest the peppers when they are at their ripest point; but, are also free from rot. I like to choose peppers that are free of blemishes and bites. If your water system is chlorinated you will want to seek out some non chlorinated water to rinse the peppers in. It is not necessary to scrub the peppers as some natural yeasts on the fruits assist the fermentation process.
Place your peppers in a sterile jar so that they are two inches below the rim. You can choose to put the peppers in whole, cut the tops only, or you can slice them in half. If you leave a way for the water to get to the inside of the pepper they will ferment faster. Then fill the jar with non chlorinated water. Chlorine interferes with the beneficial bacteria that aids lacto fermentation. I use spring water; but, if you use spring water make sure it has been tested to be safe. The next items you add can be very minimal or more extensive depending on how confident you are in the conditions of your ingredients. I typically add a teaspoon of salt per quart of peppers and water and nothing else. You can also add a teaspoon of sugar and vinegar if you choose. Adding sugar and vinegar will aid the speed of the fermentation; but, are not necessary.
As you put all of this together you will notice the peppers float to the top exposing themselves to air. It is very important for the peppers to stay submerged, so you will need to weigh them down. Some people use river rocks; however, there is a risk of contaminating your batch if you use the wrong type of rock. Glass weights are also used with a large amount of success; however, they tend to be rather expensive if you are using very many. As I am not a geologist and also not wealthy, I use small glass jars that will fit in the top of my fermentation jars. They are all jars that are used for canning so are easy to get and very reusable. You can lightly set the small jars on top and they will weigh down the peppers.
To cover the jars, use cheesecloth or paper towels. I secure the cheesecloth with jar rings; although, rubber bands also work. When beginning your fermentation journey I would urge you to use what you have available as you are figuring out the process and wait to spend money until you know what you really need.
So then you wait. This is the difficult part. Keep your jars in a cool dark place; like what you would find in an old cellar or basement. As you check on your jars you are looking for some white debris floating in the water; that is the bacteria working. You will know if the batch has gone bad because it will smell terrible and may have some odd looking molds growing on it. If you are in question do refer to the experts in fermentation. Once the process is complete it will have a sort of pickled taste. Sauerkraut is fermented and your peppers will have a similar smell to them, only with the spiciness of peppers.
To process them from this point is very easy. All you need is a blender, a food mill, and sterilized jars and lids. I drain about half of the liquid off of my peppers and dump all of it into the blender. Blend well and then pour the mixture into the food mill to mill out the stems and seeds. At this point, we season to taste. I like some extra salt and my husband likes to add some sugar. Occasionally we will add cumin, garlic, or curry. You will need to do this to taste so be prepared for the heat!
When you are satisfied that your batch has the taste you want pour it off into the jars and put it in the refrigerator. If you leave it out in the heat your batch will continue to ferment and will create pressure in the jars. This can cause an explosive event if the jars are opened after more fermentation. I know this from well earned experience. Some people choose to heat and process the hot sauce at this point; however, that kills the beneficial bacteria that lacto fermentation produces. It's safe to keep your hot sauce for up to six months in the refrigerator. From this point and all through winter enjoy the heat of summer. And you can dry out the leftover skins and seeds for a spicy topping for pizza.
Holly Chiantaretto is an organic farmer, farmer market manager, and goat breeder in Kentucky where she also raises cattle, pigs, chickens, and hops, and preserves the harvests from her garden. Connect with Holly on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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