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Jun 29, 2009

Tips for budding canners: Pickled Jalapenos and other Random Things...

Let me start by saying you will have to pick a recipe yourself: I have listed a few links below, and everyone has their "own recipe" when it comes to pickling! This is not an all-inclusive how-to post, but rather a "what the recipe doesn't tell you" post to be used in conjunction. I have had a few requests for a canning demo in my local meetup group, however - the logistics of this are near impossible due to the time involved and it's quite possible that members' ADD/ADHD may flare up during the process, making this not such a pleasant time for all, lol! So here is a basic "gimme pictures" chain of events in the pickling/canning process. For those who are canning gurus, you may look away now to prevent boredom from setting in - or, just keep on reading and laugh at my "lessons learned" from my past couple of years experience. From my little harvest you may say "why not just do refrigerator pickled jalapenos?"...well, because it is a CANNING post, (flaring up already, huh?)....and in a few weeks when I have 15 more lbs of peppers coming in as well as drowning in tomatoes - frankly, I won't have time to do this then! So sit back and have a laugh or get busy and pickle!

*** Before diving in, make sure to read my tips/lessons learned at the end of the post!

1. Harvest your goodies (or purchase from your CSA/Farm Market): here we have 2 lbs* of jalapenos, plus one rogue Pinot Noir Bell Pepper (just took that one to snack on!)
2. Gather your hardware: to include canning stockpot, jar tongs, lid magnet, funnel, jars, lids & caps, heat source* (if you have gas, you are in the "awesome category", if not, see tips below!)
3. Assemble your canning command center: gloves for handling jalapenos (trust me), if you wear glasses, put 'em on*, otherwise - go get some (trust me again!), freshly washed peppers, bowl for peppers, garbage bowl. Yes, I'm OCD with my prep areas, but it will go much more smoothly since you will soon have pepper oil soaked gloves on and won't be able to do much else once you start*!
4. Pickling Ingredients*: Vinegar, Pickling Salt, Sugar, Garlic* (or anything else your recipe calls for).
5. Now we're working: Get your gloves on, chop the tops off your peppers and remove the seeds. I found that an espresso spoon makes quick work of seed removal while not tearing up the peppers.
6. Skins Off! Lay your peppers on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler* and turn until they are evenly blistered on all sides and the skin looks loose. The more blistered, the easier it will be to remove skin! Throw your roasted peppers in a bowl and cover with a moist paper towel. Start removing the skin as soon as you are able to handle the heat...the hotter the peppers out of the broiler, the easier it is. There is a method to this, slide your thumb under the skin and around the pepper & it will slide off whole (takes some getting used to!)
7. Bring your vinegar, pickling salt, sugar, garlic cloves to a boil in a different pot, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove garlic cloves and discard (or leave in if you like!). You will pack your skinned peppers into the jars and fill them minus headspace with the vinegar liquid. The exact ingredients and amounts will vary according to recipe, but the one I used is here, from Pick-Your-Own.org...they have gobs of info on their site and very easy instructions. The liquid part of the recipe and spices are where great pickled anythings are made and heirloom recipes are treasured!

8. Bring your canner full of water to a boil! This would be a good time to pour a homebrew and grab a good book if you have an electric stove!

If you don't have a homebrewed beverage, that's okay too. Grab your favorite store bought beverage and go outside to the garden. Plant your beverage in the soil, let it mellow for a minute or so, then enjoy! Here we have a Leinenkugel's planted with the lettuces...I try to buy local, but when a "back-home" beer shows up in my neck of the woods, I snatch it up...it's a known cure for MN homesickness.

9. Okay, your water is boiling. You are going to lower your jars w/lids & rings (follow recipe directions!) into the boiling water and process as directed (mine was 10 mins). When done, lift out jars and set somewhere to cool overnight. Cutting board, etc. I was lucky enough to hear the distinctive "pop" of my jars sealing as they cooled. It doesn't matter how long you have been canning, those sounds of the jars are always music to the ears! If you aren't around to hear the pop sounds, no worries - just push on the jars the next day when they have cooled. If they do not give, you're golden. If the lids "give" and pop up and down, they did not seal properly - all is not lost though - pop them in the fridge and they will keep for a couple of months as refrigerator pickles*.

This process is varied with ingredients and spices to include pickled anything! Cauliflower, Carrots, Cukes, you name it...just find a recipe and try it! If it's your first time try refrigerator pickled cukes & carrots...easy, no equipment needed, and super yummy. So easy, in fact, I didn't post about it! There are also low-salt recipes out there so don't let the salt thing stop you. It may seem like it to a beginner, but this is NOT rocket science! If you have fresh picked produce and maintain a clean work area the goodness will follow! If it doesn't work, so what? Just try again - hey folks we have a lifetime to master this, right?

***Tips/Lessons Learned:
1. Don't pay attention to the 2 lbs of peppers, more is better - this only made 2 pints! If that's all you want, read up on refrigerator pickling. They are yummy, keep for a few months, and no special canning equipment is needed.
2. Heat source: this must be where the term "You're cookin' with gas" came from. If you are, you have no worries. Electric Coil people are ok, just will take longer to boil. If you are like me and made the pre-canning days decision to go with the beautiful ceramic-top range...first, I'm sorry, I understand your pain, and you're in good company! Due to the nature of the ceramic top, the element is designed to kick on and off repeatedly to prevent the glass from getting cracked - this results in never reaching a boil with such a large volume of water. I decided to order a "Super Burner" 1300 watts online by reading the reviews, and nope...waited 2 hours, still no boil. There is only one solution: Outdoor Propane Burner! I didn't really want to can outside, but there is no other option. This thing is slick, boils within minutes, and can be used for many other things (like homebrewing!). If you already have a turkey fryer, fish setup, etc, you already have one of these burners. Save yourself the headache and use it!
3. Yep, I got a pepper seed flung into my eye last year...
4. L, I'll call you back...all I need is pepper oil gloves all over the telephone!
5. If you don't have any homegrown garlic, try and find a nearby gardener that does. Explain you are learning how to pickle and would like to know if they have any extra garlic...you will probably find yourself carrying it back using your shirt as a bucket. Gardeners are funny that way, we love to share our goodies, and are usually to blame for finding bags of unsolicited ding-dong-ditch produce at your door. We always seem to grow too much, especially of things like garlic, shallots and the like, I mean come on - who really needs 100 bulbs of garlic, lol??
6. If you live in the city, your best bet is WalMart for canning supplies - they have one aisle dedicated to them. If you are lucky, you live in an area that has feed stores like Southern States, Fleet Farm, etc...you will have no problems finding what you need there. (oh, how I miss those stores!)
7. There is a frypan and microwave method for skinning peppers also, but I have never done it.
8. Make sure you date your jars with a "use by" date if you did not get a seal and had to refrigerate them.
9. If you have kids, try to get rid of them for the day and have a good friend over to commiserate with. The process is time consuming, but could be turned into a good time with a friend. Thus far, I have never been able to do this, but I can imagine! If you want to save costs, share the price of the canner & accessories with a friend and take turns using it.
10. And the last tip is for my husband, reading this from afar... don't make a batch of homebrew and then go underway for a month and expect there to be any when you get back... just sayin'!

I hope this has inspired you to learn more or at least given you a laugh at my flinging pepper seeds in my eye. If you want to learn more or get some trusted recipes, 2 books I recommend are the standard "Ball Blue Book of Canning" (which is cheap, too!), or one titled "Preserving Summer's Bounty", which includes harvesting, freezing, canning, herb vinegars, drying, juicing, preserving, and cellaring. If you are lucky enough to have a computer or laptop set up in your kitchen - save your money and go to PickYourOwn.org, Ball, or your state may have a good extension service with online canning guidelines and how-to, such as the ones here in VA and my home state of Minnesota. Of course if you have access to family recipes, so much the better - as a matter of fact, grab a gardening grandma, anyone's gardening grandma...ply her with a favorite cocktail, and have paper and pen in hand when she spills the super secret Dill Pickle recipe! Just remember to arrange a safe ride home for her and leave a thank you note pinned to her shirt :) And Annie'sGranny, please don't take offense to that...in my "ultimate party guest list" - you are on it along with the likes of Bill Clinton, Paul "The Gardener Guy" James, Andrew Zimmern, and Vince "the Germans made it, it must be good" of Sham-Wow fame. (Does anyone else keep a mental list of people they would like to invite to "the perfect party"?) Have fun...