A Picked Passel of Peppers

For the past week or so I have been volunteering at our community GrassRoots Garden. Merry, the wonder woman in charge there encourages young and old to come, visit, work, or simply savor whatever the garden offers up that day.

The 2 ½ acre garden started about 18 years ago as a partnership between the Master Gardeners, Food for Lane County, and our local St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Since then, it has become a glorious setting that teaches earth-friendly gardening and self-sufficiency. Over time the garden has evolved and taken on its own personality: it’s inviting, energizing, and healing.

It’s harvest time, and there’s heightened activity to bring in the crops before the rain and frost arrives. I’ve been assigned to pulling up tomato plants and cages – it’s back breaking work, but totally rewarding. On Friday, I returned in time to join the volunteers for lunch. The food team that day had prepared a big pot of wheat pasta tossed with a freshly cooked tomato sauce, loaded with peppers, onion, and garlic. As we sat under the grape arbor sheltered from the afternoon sun, there was a relaxed calm. For many, this is regarded as a safe place, a sanctuary, and retreat from life’s hardships and challenges.

That day I met a woman 3 months pregnant with twins, a severely handicapped man, a 7’ professional basketball player, several teenagers, an elderly man and his dog, and a couple of women that had arrived by bus from across town. We all chatted as we worked and enjoyed the coolness of the fall afternoon.
I left the garden with a big bag of mixed peppers. On the drive home I suddenly felt emboldened by my afternoon experience–and moved to face one of my biggest fears: canning. 
I’m not exactly sure why I have avoided canning all these years; perhaps I don’t completely trust my ability to safely pull this off. Although I have no problems eating commercial products, I’m a bit skeptical of the home canning process; things like salmonella and botulism concern me, a lot. My daughter has also been bit by the canning bug this year, and has shared her successes with me; with her added encouragement I prepared for a pickled pepper canning challenge.
Armed with my daughter’s advice and my trusty standby, Helen Witty’s Fancy Pantry, I proceeded. Their ideas were surprisingly similar, so I felt I was on fairly solid ground. The peppers are not peeled or cooked ahead; they are packed into jars, covered with an easy brine and seasonings, and processed in a hot water bath. How simple is that?
According to Helen they should stand a couple of weeks before sampling, so I am unable to make any further pronouncements at this time. Stay tuned!
Pickled Peppers
Inspired by Helen Witty’s Fancy Pantry
2 1/2 pounds small peppers, red, orange, yellow, washed, seeded cut into 1/8s or wide strips
7 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, peel, sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
8 dried red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
Wash, rinse and drain eight 1 pint canning jars, lids and bands.
Pack sliced peppers into jars, add a few slices of garlic, a sprinkling of oregano, 1 chile pepper to each jar.
Combine the water, vinegar, salt and bring it to a boil, stir to dissolve the salt. Pour the hot liquid over the peppers leaving approx. 1/2″ headspace, and drizzle each with approximately 1 tsp. olive oil.
Top with lids and bands and process jars in boiling water bath for 20 minutes, or according to manufacturers directions. Remove from heat and let stand uncovered for 5 minutes, remove to baking sheet and cool undisturbed for about 12 hours. Tighten the lids and allow to stand for 2 weeks or longer. ~~
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