Pickling a Pickled Pepper

There was a time when most every home had a pantry lined with brightly colored Ball jars. Before refrigeration, people relied on canning to preserve rations that would then be eaten throughout the winter months. When canning was no longer a necessity, the art began to die out. However, with the rise in food costs and increased concern over the quality of produce, more people are growing their own. Canning has found its way back into the American kitchen. 

Elizabeth Harper Minto, a physician living in Fairhope, found herself with an abundance of San Marzano Roma tomatoes grown with seeds brought back from Italy. Armed with her Italian culinary teacher’s handwritten tomato sauce recipe, she started canning as a way to share her experience abroad. “I’m a science geek whose only artistic, creative ability is in the kitchen, and I’ve always wanted to try canning because it seems to be a good mix of chemistry and cooking.”

She’s right; the art is based on scientific principle. If you don’t follow the directions clearly, you could end up with bacteria in your food. A water bath canner is used for high-acid foods, such as fruits, tomatoes and most pickled items. A pressure canner must be used for low-acid ones, like peppers. When prepared properly, they can be good for up to a year. Food preserved promptly after picking better retains its nutrients and can even be more nutritious than store-bought canned food.

Mixing Business & Pleasure

Jeane Courtney is known as the matriarch of Cathedral Square’s farmers’ market. Every Saturday, Jeane and husband Marvin, bottom left, are on the corner with their table full of baked goods, pecans and, of course, preserves. When her husband began gardening, Jeane had to find a way to put all of his bounty to good use. “I just starting digging in, reading cookbooks and going at it. I made a lot of mistakes along the way.” Now 91, Marvin doesn’t garden quite as much, but he still tends his fig trees and blueberry bushes. Although she originally made her jams and jellies for friends and family, Jeane has enjoyed sharing her love of canning with others. 

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Pickling has also gained popularity. The process preserves food through fermentation and is typically accomplished using vinegar. No cooking necessary. The difference between the two methods of preparation is that pickling does not require food to be completely sterile before it is sealed. 

Kim Miller, secretary at Saraland Middle School and self-proclaimed “Pickle Princess, ” wanted a way to make additional money during the summer months. All she had to do was look in her refrigerator. Her pickles, touted as “sweet with a little heat, ” sell out at the farmers’ market every Saturday.

Another benefit of canning and pickling is that you always have gifts on hand. “I hope they’ll make great Christmas presents, if we haven’t eaten them all by then, ” Minto, far right, says. And her tomatoes won’t be the only thing under the tree. “My husband is already pleased to have his shopping list figured out – a shiny new pressure canner.”

November 5, 12, 19 • market on the square

Cathedral Square. 208-7443. ncsmobile.org 8 a.m. – Noon Sa.
Find locally canned and pickled items, as well as fresh produce, seafood, beef, honey, bread, pasta, cheese, plants and handcrafted goods.

Elizabeth Harper Minto’s Jalapeño Jelly

1 pound fresh whole jalapeño peppers
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
4 1/2 cups sugar
3 packets powdered pectin
8 drops green food coloring (optional, but really takes the finished product from a dull green to a bright, pretty, Christmas gift-worthy shade)

1. Remove the stems, seeds and membranes from all of the peppers. (Wear gloves for this step, or your hands will feel moderately sunburned for 3 – 4 days.)
2. In batches, combine peppers and vinegar in a blender and puree.
3. Put mixture into a large saucepan and add the sugar.
4. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it reaches a rolling boil.
5. Stir in the pectin and boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, skim any foam from the top of the pot and place into prepared (8-ounce) jars*.
6. Place the lids and rings. Return to boiling water bath for 6 minutes.
7. Remove, turn upside down for 2 minutes, then upright. Tighten lids. Usually sets overnight. Will keep in pantry for about a year; refrigerate after opening. Makes 6 – 8 jars.
*Prepare 8 (8-ounce) jars either in dishwasher or boil for 5 minutes and drain. Keep jars and lids hot until filled with hot pepper mixture.

Tip: Don’t double this recipe. If, for example, you have 10 pounds of peppers, make this recipe in 10 batches. Larger batches require longer to heat, and it’s easy to overcook the pectin, resulting in jelly the consistency of sundae topping. Not so bad if you’re working with strawberries, quite a bummer if working with jalapeños.

Elizabeth Harper Minto's Tomato Basil Sauce

5 pounds fresh tomatoes (I prefer Roma, but any meaty fresh tomato will work)
2 sweet onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1. Score each tomato with an “X” on the bottom. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Submerge in an ice water bath for 5 minutes, then slip off the skins.
2. Squeeze out seeds and cut out cores. Roughly chop.
3. In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil until transparent. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper.
4. Cook over medium heat until bubbling, then stir in the chopped basil. Simmer for about 15 minutes. 
5. Transfer to hot jars and top with balsamic vinegar. Place lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn upside down for 2 minutes, then upright to cool overnight. Makes 6 – 8 pint jars.

Tip: Most canning recipes call for adding a little acid, usually in the form of a teaspoon of lemon juice. For this recipe, instead of lemon juice, I tried topping each jar before sealing it with a teaspoon of good balsamic vinegar. It adds a sweetness when you use the sauce months later and everything has steeped together.

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder

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