Friday, December 19, 2014

OUR LAST HARVEST: PICKLED PEPPERS



After a couple dry years, our California winter finally returned. It has been raining for weeks. We almost forgot what a normal California winter looked like, wet socks and green hills.  The vines are loosing their color, but the meadows between them are lime green. There are toads croaking everywhere.

Even though winter has returned, it's still mild and the normal rules of winter aren't taken into consideration. As I drive back and forth between San Francisco and Sonoma, I count the baby sheep and cows.  I broke into the barn to dig out my winter coat consisting of a sweater and a rain jacket, and rain boots. Unfortunately the rain boots have a rip along the side of the foot that even the strongest duck tape won't fix. It is time for the return of wet socks warming by the fire.




Almost everything had already been removed from the garden, but our peppers never seemed to end. I gave two bags full to the Winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery, Robert Rex, for his Sicilian Grandmother's traditional meat and peppers recipe.  By the time everybody and their mothers were tired of peppers we still had enough peppers to fill a five hour pickling event, including 40 jars.

PICKLING RATIO

  • 4 cups vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 TBS salt
Combine the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Stir to ensure all the ingredients dissolve. 


PEPPERS AND OTHER VEGETABLES

Fill our jars two-thirds full of fresh washed vegetables and other flavoring components. I recommend slicing the vegetables so the pickling process works better. Definitely slice your peppers. 
  • peppers
  • onions
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • peppercorns
  • herbs
Pour the hot brine into the vegetable filled jars. Seal the jars through your canning method of choice. Wait at least three weeks for the pickling process to complete. Store jars between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn more about canning here. I boiled the jars after they were full, and then let them cool on the counter until all their tops popped indicating a fresh sealed jar. This method also runs the risk of glass jars breaking under the stress of the high heat. 





SCIENCE AND SAFETY

Remember to always sterilize your equipment before using. After the jars have been filled, they need to be sealed, just like making jam in the summer time. There are different acceptable methods of canning.

Pickling works by creating a high acid environment that selects for the growth of the bacteria lactobacilli, which ferment the sugar in veggies producing lactic acid. Not very many microbes can live in high acid environments, so the vinegar is not only selecting for lactobacilli which 'pickle' the veggies, but also deselects for potentially harmful alternative bacteria. The idea in pickling is to create an environment made specifically for lactobacilli, so this good bacteria can out compete all other potentially harmful bacteria.

The addition of salt is used for the same selection principle. At certain salt concentrations lactobacilli grow faster than other organisms. Too little salt allows for the quick growth of other organisms, but too much salt will also kill the good lactobacilli bacteria. Thus, it is important to not alter the suggested ratio of salt and vinegar.

If your jars are not properly sealed and the contents are exposed to oxygen, spoilage it almost always certain. Also the temperature at which you store your fermenting jars will affect your pickled products. Try and keep the contents between 70 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

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