I went to see a friend on Monday who was picking the last of her summer vegetables – chilli peppers, capsicum peppers and green tomatoes. I came home with a handful of small green and red chillies, which look to me like cayenne or guindilla peppers. I took a bite out of a small one and it had quite a nice kick. There was a clean jar sitting on my windowsill (leftover from housing olives) and within a couple of hours, this jam jar nagged me into pickling some chillis.
It’s thought that the pickling of cucumbers dates back to 2400 BC in North West India. The reason for pickling is to preserve vegetables, particularly over the winter, using vinegar, salt/brine or oil. These methods of preservation were well know to the Greeks, Romans and Phoenicians. Preserving cheese, olives and capers in olive oil, fish, meat and vegetables in oil and vinegar (escabeche) and fish, meat and vegetables with salt were all common practices across the Mediterranean. These processes were absolutely essential at a time before refrigeration, but have remained popular because they impart additional flavours during the preservation process.
Pickled Chilli Pepper recipe:
15 small chillies (or however many you can fit in the jar)
150ml white wine vinegar (at least 5% acetic acid)
1 small carrot julienned
4 pieces of garlic (slightly bashed and peeled)
2 bay leaves
a pinch crushed chilli (optional)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
10 black peppercorns
1 dessertspoon extra virgin olive oil
First of all, work out how much liquid you need to fill the jar and adjust the liquid measures (above) to fit. Next, sterilise a suitable jar and lid in boiling water for 10 minutes. In the meantime mix all the ingredients, except the chillies and olive oil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Wash the chillies and prick them a couple of times. When the pickle mixture and sterilisation are about done, blanch the chilles in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Push all the chillies down into the sterile jar and pour on the pickle liquid. If necessary (due to evaporation), top up the jar with vinegar and add a dessertspoon or so, of extra virgin olive oil as a final layer to the very top of the jar – this helps to protect the pickles from the air. Allow the jar to cool and refrigerate. Buy a good book, perhaps, “Como Agua Para Chocolate” and sit by the fridge for a week…
All sorts of flavours can be added to pickles, such as dill, turmeric, celery salt, cloves, oregano, etc. Sugar or honey is a very popular addition (often in a similar proportions to salt), though personally I can do without. You can pickle most, if not all fresh vegetables and if you can them afterwards, by boiling the full jar under pressure, they will last for a year or more without refrigeration.
Health and Safety: This is a Fridge Pickle, there’s no fermentation or canning involved – these pickled peppers will be ready in a week and keep in the fridge for a month. The acidity of the vinegar kills any germs and most importantly botulism. It’s important to use a mixture of vinegar and water, where the ratio of water is 50% or less of the total liquid. Some recipes with a high salt content and more water would also be safe – salt kills germs too. It’s necessary to use a vinegar where the acetic acid level is at least 5% – it will normally tell you on the bottle (mine was 6%). Water from the vegetables will dilute the vinegar over time, hence the importance of the 5% acid level by liquid volume. Pickling in neat vinegar will preserve food, such as onions and eggs for a long time, but the vinegar taste is quite strong.