By Travis Birch
We maintain a large garden out by our cabin. With all the fruit and veggies we grow, we make the most out of all them. What we don’t share and cook right away, we preserve what we can with the rest. Peppers of all varieties make our list of must-haves. Peppers add a great flavor and different variables of heat to whatever they are added to.
When we are able to harvest a peck of peppers, (a peck being about two gallons, or a ¼ bushel) we like to choose different ways to enjoy them over the year. Two ways that we love them, and our friends and neighbors ask for them is as a homemade hot sauce, and a jelly. When prepared right, these will last 12 months or more, not to toot my own horn, but they are usually consumed long before they expire.
The first thing I like to make with our peppers is a jelly. This is something that everyone enjoys because the sweetness offsets the heat. To begin, you will need four to six pint mason jars with seals and lid rings. About eight cups of diced peppers. I use six cups of tame jalapenos, one cup of green bell, and one cup of red bell peppers. Blanch the peppers to remove the skin, then remove the seeds and veins inside the peppers and dice them.
A helpful hint that goes a long way is to wear dishwashing or latex gloves when working with jalapenos. They produce an unseen oil on the skin that will stay with you. Wiping your eyes, or using the restroom without cleaning your hands will wreak havoc on you.
Sterilize the mason jars and lids by placing them in a pot of boiling water for about two minutes, and remove with tongs. Leave them to rest in quiet area on warming racks while you prepare your mixture.
In a pan simmer the vinegar and peppers over a medium heat. Add the pectin stirring all the while. As the boil begins to roll it will become harder to stir. Add the sugar slowly so that it all dissolves. Maintain the heat until it completely thickens. You should be looking at a thick slurry now. Spoon the hot mixture carefully into the mason jars, leave about one inch of head space.. Apply the seal and ring, and allow to cool. As it cools, the jar will pull a vacuum and then you are finished. I enjoy this mostly on my morning biscuits, but it goes great on fried chicken as well.
Next is my favorite, hot sauce. First prepare one sterile quart size Mason jar, seal and lid. In a pan combine four cups of vinegar, 2 pounds of tabasco peppers (chopped, leave the seeds and skin on), and ¼ cup of salt. Heat them in a pot, simmering for 5-10 minutes. If you do this in your kitchen, ask everyone to leave, and open all your windows. The aroma will punch you in the face.
Take the cooked product and spoon it carefully into a food processor and mix it until it is homogeneous. Then spoon it into the quart jar. Seal and apply the lid, and allow it to cool. Place it in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks. This will allow the flavors to marry. After two weeks, sterilize several ½ pint mason jars with lids. Strain the contents of the quart jar into a sauce pan a through a cheese cloth. Heat the sauce without boiling it, and carefully spoon into the jars. Apply the lids and allow to cool. Leave about ½ inch of head space.
Your final product can be added to any dish you enjoy the pepper flavor on. For me this is fried chicken and eggs. If you can find a smaller jar to put the final product in then do it. Once you break the initial seal and oxygen hits it, the overall heat of the peppers begins to intensify over time. Some people like the intense heat, some just want the flavor. You can use this sauce for personal use, or gift it or barter with your neighbors.