Hot peppers are literally the spice of life. Left with the decision of leaving my mother-in-law or my hot peppers behind at the end of the world…. Well, I’d at least ask her to carry a case of peppers on her lap.
I love fresh hot peppers, but what is the best way to enjoy them all year. I’ve tried growing them throughout the winter with limited luck. They just never seem to thrive. I’ve never been able to get the variety I’ve wanted or the heat.
Finally, I’ve tried drying them. While they will spice up a plate, there’s just something missing.
How about canning them? You can select varieties for flavor and punch. You can add other spices, such as garlic or thyme. Most of all, you can enjoy them year-round!
I’ve always water-bath canned my peppers. Water-bath canning is simple, requires little in the way of equipment, and results in a product that can grace your shelf for years. The only limitation to water-bath canning is you can only use this method for high-acid foods.
Water-bath canning only brings foods up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius). This limits the nasties it can kill off during the process. You need an acidic environment to do the rest of the job. If you prefer a non-acid route, you need to use a pressure canner. But that’s a topic for another article.
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As stated, water-bath canning doesn’t require much equipment other than a pot, a few jars, rings, and new lids. You also need to keep the jars off the bottom with some sort of rack.
Most people use purpose-built canners. I’ve gone this way as they are inexpensive and sized to fit a good quantity of jars. Most canner sets include a canning rack. Racks keep the jars off the bottom of the canner. They also help to raise and lower the jars into the pot.
Your other option for getting jars in and out of the pot is a jar lifter. This specialized wrench is pretty handy and will keep you from burning your fingers.
Finally, with a canner set, you may get a magnetic lid lifter. These are handy finger savers when it’s time to lift the rings and lids out of their own pot of boiling water.
Next on the list are jars, lids, and rings.
Jars are self-explanatory. They come in quart, pint, and jelly (half-pint) sizes. When picking up jars, make sure that they can be used for canning. The arts and craft community has seen the rise of decorative jars. Use only ones that are specifically made for canning. Ball is the master of this kingdom.
The nice thing about jars is that you can re-use them. I’m the third generation of canner in my family and about half my jars were used by my grandmother decades ago. I’ve picked up more than a few cases from folks getting out of the hobby. As long as the jar isn’t chipped or cracked, it’s still good for another season.
Next is rings. Every case of jars will come with a set of rings. These hold the lids in place during the canning process and can be removed once the jar has cooled. As long as they are rust-free, you can use them over and over. Again, I have a few that are much older than me.
Finally, are the lids. This is the only part of canning that cannot be re-used. Let me repeat that. Canning lids are single-use items.
There are lids on the market, Tattler lids, that you can re-use multiple times. I’ve never tried them (I buy lids in bulk 200-300 at a time). If you have use Tattlers, let me know how they work in the comment section.
Finally, you must match the size of your lids, rings, and jars. Regular and wide-mouth are the two normal sizes. I’ve never seen others, but I’m sure they’re out there.
A few warnings before we get started. Clean your jars before use. This is a good time to inspect the jars for cracks and nicks. Hot water and dish soap are the tools here. Rinse well in hot water and keep them warm.
Some recipes instruct you to wash and then boil the jars to sanitize them. Modern recommendations from the FDA do not require you to sanitize the jars if you are canning for more than 10 minutes (adjusted for elevation).
Speaking of adjustments, if you are at an elevation of more than 1,000 feet, you need to increase your processing time.
Finally, watch your temperature differences! Temperature shock will break your jars. This recipe calls for hot canning liquid. Therefore, you need to use warm to hot jars and then place them into hot water in your canner. Keep everything warm and you won’t lose a jar. Mix warm and cold and you’re sure to crack one or more.
Canned hot peppers are pretty simple regarding ingredients. Peppers, water, vinegar, salt, and garlic. That’s it.
I usually can with 3-4 types of hot peppers in a batch. The ones that grow best for me (and my neighbor–he has a serious green thumb) are:
- Jalapenos: Mild heat but they add body to the mix
- Hungarian: Another body-adding pepper
- Cayenne: A little hotter and they add shape variety
- Thai: Tiny peppers that pack a punch, I usually cut off the stem and toss them in whole
- Habaneros: Serious heat with great flavor
- Ghost: Face melting heat – real Indiana Jones stuff
Specific varieties aside, I add peppers for body and bulk, color, and heat. Everything else is a bonus.
We always make a few special jars for our friends that really like a kick. This year, these jars were about 1/3 ghost peppers. They’re bound to break out the sweats.
What would the world be without garlic? Pretty bland and boring. I always add 2-3 cloves to each jar. They are especially great to eat once the jar is done. Or smear on some toast with my scrambled eggs.
Use the best water you can find. Nothing worse than skunky water messing up your peppers. If you don’t like the taste of your water out of the tap, use bottled.
The next ingredient is acid. There are several types of vinegar you can use. I always use white vinegar (more on that later) and never experimented with either red or cider.
The last ingredient is salt. If you can get it, and it’s cheap, use canning salt. The difference between canning and normal table salt is anti-caking agents. Table salt has additives to keep it from clumping in your shaker.
These additions will make your canned liquid cloudy. It’s an aesthetic thing and little more. Don’t sweat it if you can’t get canning salt. In fact, some recipes leave the salt out all together.
Safety – It’s All About the Acid
As I stated above, because of the relatively low temperatures of the process. To can safely preserve foods via water-bath, you need to have the proper pH range. This is about 4.6 and lower.
If the food is naturally above a pH of 4.6 then you need to add an acid. Enter vinegar.
A recipe from a safe source will always recommend enough vinegar to hold the pH below 4.6. If in doubt, use pH test strips.
I’ve just trusted the recipes from respected sources. Now let’s get into the good stuff.
How to Can Hot Peppers Recipe
- 5 pounds assorted peppers
- 12 cups white vinegar
- 4 cups water
- 20- 30 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons canning / pickling salt
- Add rings and lids to a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Fill the canner 2/3 full and turn the heat on low.
- Place water, vinegar, salt in a pot to boil.
- Clean garlic
- Wash and chop peppers into 1/4” slices. For smaller peppers (smaller than your little finger) you can remove the stem and add whole. For a hotter mix keep the seeds.
- Mix the peppers if using more than one type.
- Once canning liquid (vinegar, water, salt) is boiling, add garlic and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pack peppers into a jar.
- Pour the canning liquid over the peppers working out any bubbles. Leave ¼” of headspace.
- Clean off the rim with a paper towel dampened with vinegar.
- Add lids and rings. Center the lids on the jars. Finger tighten the lids – don’t crank down on them.
- Add jars to the hot canner, and slowly lower them into the water with the rack or your jar lifter.
- Turn the heat on high.
- Process for 10 minutes once the water comes to a rolling boil.
- After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the jars. If doing a second batch, I usually remove some of the water and add cold to cool it down to the temp of my canning liquid.
- Allow the jars to cool and come to room temperature.
- Test the lids to make sure they have dimpled and no longer flex.
- Test the lids to make sure they have dimpled and no longer flex.
- Once cooled, remove the rings, and give the jars a quick rinse.
- Label and date each jar.
Storing Your Canned Hot Peppers
The better you treat your canned food, the better it will treat you with respect to flavor, texture, and nutrition.
Keep your jars in a cool and dry place. The colder, the better. The cold slows down degradation of texture. The dryness prevents any formation of rust on the lids. Finally, keeping the light away will slow down the texture degradation and keep the nutrients intact.
As the jars are glass, they will be delicate and heavy. Isolate them from any vibrations, and from being knocked around (especially during transportation).
Next, make sure that your shelving is sturdy enough to hold a few cases. The thing about canning is you keep expanding what you can every year. I’m on my third shelf unit and about to add a fourth.
Kept in the right environment, your canned peppers will last at least a year, and often longer. I have recently worked through a few five-year-old jars. They were a tad mushy but tasted fine.
Watch for the following warning signs of spoilage.
- Cloudy canning liquid
- Off colors of the food
- Bulging or non-dimpled lid – it should not pop down when you press it
- Rust on the lid
- Off smells when opened
If your can has any of these symptoms, toss them in the bin.
Enjoying Your Hot Peppers Year-Round
The best part of canning your own garden abundance is that you get to enjoy it year round. We thoroughly enjoy each batch of peppers. Here are a few of our favorite dishes that peppers make even better.
Peppers add heat, and peppers love heat. We add them to just about any grilled meat or veggies possible. A fork-full on a burger or used as a steak topping is spicy bliss.
We especially love mixing hot peppers and butter as a spread. A dab of that on a steak is pure heaven. Finally, a few topping grilled steak fajitas are what they made sour cream for!
I’ve put hot peppers on just about every sandwich possible. My favorite is rare roast beef, but turkey will do in a pinch. Load up a sub\hoagie with hots and I’m ready for the game and an ice-cold beer.
Salads don’t have to be boring and neither does ranch dressing. Day in and day out I eat salads. A jar of hot peppers in the fridge allows me to spice up the noon-time meal.
My dad loves spicy food, and he takes it to an extreme. His morning dip into the fiery end of the spectrum includes scrambled eggs with a healthy dose of chopped hot peppers. He’s the beneficiary of the extra hot batches!
Chili is our household’s winter staple. We pressure can up more than a few quarts and I always add a few spoonfuls of hots to my bowl. It makes for a rough morning, but the dinner is sublime!
Finally, there are a few dips that are the beneficiary of our canned hot peppers. You can spice up your standard cream cheese and herb mix with a few peppers. There is also a Greek spread that includes feta cheese, garlic, Greek yogurt, olive oil, and canned peppers to taste.
Add all the ingredients to a blender and mix well, and you have the perfect accompaniment to chips and crackers.
Experiment! That’s the best part of cooking!
Finishing Canned Hot Peppers
I probably like hot food a little too much. When I die, I’m sure they’ll cut me open and wonder just what I did to my insides. That’s fine with me. We only have so many years on this earth. Might as well enjoy those years on the spicy side of life.
Canned hot peppers are the perfect way to spread your harvest out over a full 12 months. They also make a magnificent gift for friends that enjoy the same.
There’s nothing like a little green from the garden in a Christmas stocking or as a new year’s gift. Heat in the winter is what we are all looking for.
Water-bath canning is the gateway drug to other forms of food preservation. It’s simple, and it requires little money to get into. Best of all, most of it (pot, tools, jars, rings) are re-usable and will last you a lifetime!
When your garden comes in flush with peppers, pull out the canner, and give this recipe a try!