“In my South, the most treasured things passed down from generation to generation are the family recipes.” – Robert St. John

Over the years, my father, Jean, and I shared many interests. From the moment I was born, he passed on his love of sports. A love I wholeheartedly embraced. Together, we enjoyed baseball in the summer, football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring. For my generation, growing up in North Central West Virginia in the 1960’s, that was a full sports schedule. Actually, the only major team sports schedule. Soccer, wrestling, and lacrosse were a generation or so away.

However, dad and my grandfather, Jules, also passed along their love of gardening and cooking. From my earliest memories, we always had a garden. Not a large canning garden, but a garden which supplied us with summer necessities – tomatoes, lettuce, onions, peppers, cantaloupes, cucumbers and a few fresh herbs. Dad, being of Belgian heritage, always made sure we had shallots, leeks, and chives. Together, we planted and tended our small, but bountiful urban garden.

The only activity I enjoyed more than planting and tending, was picking the fresh herbs and vegetables. The one harvest from the garden we canned (actually pickled) was peppers, mainly Hungarian wax. At a very early age, I gained an appreciation for a fine hot pickled pepper, much to my mother’s chagrin. I still have dad’s original recipe – yellowed and barely legible. However, today, the only time I actually look at the recipe is for nostalgia. After 50 years of making pickled hot peppers, it all comes naturally.

Nothing secret or complicated about this recipe. It was passed from my grandfather to my father and then to me. And now, I would like to pass it to you. However, before I take you through each step, I want to share some thoughts. Next time you go to the grocery store, pick up a bottle of pickled peppers, and read the ingredients: Water, vinegar, salt, calcium chloride, sodium benzdate, polysorbate 80, sodium bisulfite, turmeric, and artificial flavors. My family recipe: Peppers, vinegar, a little oil (very little), and fresh herbs. Done properly, they last indefinitely, are very flavorful, and are as crisp as anything you can buy in the store.

There is something different about doing it yourself, with ingredients you have grown, and using a time-tested family recipe. Something else makes it special. For every jar I seal in the late summer or early fall, and for every jar I open in the winter, dad is right beside me. Enjoying hot peppers and a chunk of cheese. And that makes for a very special evening.

Another note before I share my recipe: I live in Harrison County West Virginia and pickling hot peppers and canning peppers in tomato sauce is almost a religion. The recipes are numerous. Recipe defense can become contentious. And many protect their recipes as if they were national treasures. We even have a festival that features a pepper canning and eating contest. West Virginians are very competitive.

I would never say my family recipe is the best or the easiest. The only thing I will say is, “It has been in my family for three generations and it produces a really good tasting pickled pepper.” I call the recipe “Julean’s Hot Pickled Peppers” in honor of my grandfather and father, Jules and Jean.

If you are interested in trying the recipe this fall, there is still time. However, you might have to visit your local Farmer’s Market or produce house and buy “A Peck of Pickled Peppers.” Regardless, copy this recipe and I promise you will not be disappointed.

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It may not be the best around, but it is foolproof – if you follow the recipe.

Julean’s Hot Pickled Peppers

Ingredients & Supplies:

  • Canning jars, lids and rings.
  • Basket of peppers. Your choice. Sometimes I mix and match. I grow Inferno’s.
  • Stainless steel (must be stainless steel) pot and tea kettle. Anything but stainless can cause an unwanted chemical reaction and ruin the peppers.
  • Pan to sterilize lids and rings.
  • Wooden mallet for packing peppers in jars.
  • Fresh Oregano (Dried oregano can be used but not preferred).
  • Bulb or two of garlic.

Process:

Select only firm peppers. Wash and rinse thoroughly. I never wear gloves, but I am very careful not to touch my eyes. I wash my hands thoroughly if I have to leave the canning process for a few minutes. Failure to wash can cause some unpleasant side effects. I scrub the peppers with a soft brush. Unless you grow your own, you have no idea what they have been sprayed with. Never trust what you are told. I use a stainless steel expandable strainer to drain the peppers (below).

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In past years I used a very sharp knife and cut the peppers into rings. Very time consuming. However, this year I had a lot of peppers and was looking for a shortcut. Then it came to me: Use the meat slicer (above). It worked magnificently. You can set the blade depth to any size ring. But, be CAREFUL. The monotonous hand movement can cause your mind to wonder. Stay focused, you do not want to add finger slices to the pile of peppers. The results of just a few minutes are pictured below.

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Place the rings in a bowl and set aside. Now, it is time to slice the garlic and chop the oregano. I grow my own oregano so I know it is fresh and not sprayed with harmful chemicals. Place all three (oregano, garlic, and pepper rings) in close proximity (above).

Time to sterilize the jars. I use pints. Sandra always runs hers through the dishwasher. I am too impatient. I set a large (stainless steel) tea pot to boil. Meanwhile, I place my jars in the sink, add a few squirts of dish soap to each jar, along with ½ inch of Clorox. Plug the drain. When the kettle whistles, carefully “almost” fill each jar with boiling water. Then take the hand sprayer and fill the jars so each one slightly runs over – getting the rim. Take a bottle brush and give each jar a few “swirlies” Dump each (be careful they are hot) and wipe the rim with a soapy dish cloth. Let the jars sit on their side until ready to fill. They are still in the hot soapy Clorox water.

Now, with your lids in the bottom of a large pan, I use a 9 x 12” (place hot pads under it), just scatter the rings among (but not directly on) the lids. Cover with boiling water.

Next Step: Pour a gallon of white vinegar (not apple cider) into a stainless steel pot and bring it to a boil. I use a stainless steel tea kettle because I can pour and not dip the vinegar into the jars. On a clean tea towel or a drying mat, rinse off one or two jars. Leave the rest in the hot soapy water.

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The Stuffing Process: If you are a one-man operation like me, only do a couple jars at a time. First jar: Place some pepper rings in the jar, a pinch or two of oregano and a couple slices of garlic. Keep alternating (peppers, oregano, garlic), leaving ½ inch from the top. I use a wooden mallet to pack the rings rather tight (below). Then, add ½ tsp of vegetable oil. Measuring is ok the first few times. After a while you just know. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth or paper towel. Make sure there are no seeds or herbs hanging on the rim.

Sealing Process: Pour or dip the boiling vinegar in the jar, leaving ½ inch space. IMMEDIATELY, take a lid and ring from their boiling water. I use a small knife to retrieve them. Careful – Hot! Place the lid on the jar and tighten the ring without moving the lid. I place two fingers on the outside edges of the lid. Never apply pressure in the center. I would suggest using a tea towel to hold the jar – again it is hot. Set the jar on a safe surface and do not touch for 24 hours. Keep the tw0-at-a time process until all the jars are filled (below).

If you look at the picture of my Peck of Pickled Peppers (below) you will notice the ones on the left are not Inferno’s. They are hot cherry peppers. I grew them for the first time this year and they are delicious. The process is the same but you do NOT slice them. Just stick each pepper with an ice pick or a meat fork three or four times.

Sandra and I have a wooden block that is great for this process. After all the jars are sealed, leave them alone for 24 hours. Do not touch them in any way, shape, or form, especially the lids. In a few minutes you will hear a most pleasant sound. A very distinctive “POP,” telling you the jar has sealed. Music to a pepper lover’s ears. The next morning, I gently check every lid by running my finger over it. If by chance one did not seal (the center pops down) you can remove the vinegar, reheat it, or use fresh and repeat the sealing process. If this seems too time consuming, just leave the unsealed jar in the fridge for a week or two and enjoy. So, I do not forget, I carefully date and label each lid (never touch the center) with a felt tip marker.

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And that is how my grandfather taught my father and my father taught me… to make hot pickled peppers.

Unlike many cooks, Sandra and I are always willing to share our family recipes and even recipes we have developed on our own. If you are a pepper lover, I know you will enjoy “Julean’s Hot Pickled Peppers.” For me, it is a way to keep in touch with the past. As you might have imagined, there is much more to this story than a simple food recipe. Not a jar sealed nor one opened when I do not think of dad and the good times we shared – canning A Peck of Pickled Peppers.

Until next time,

Michael