HEADLINE: Pick a Pepper
As fall approaches and the days grow shorter, most of the summer crops are winding down. There are a few undaunted vegetables, though, that have flourished through the change in seasons. They’ve been growing throughout a hot season and waiting until the very end, when temperatures begin to drop a little, to flower. At the end of our seasonal food pageant, peppers take the stage.
The colorful display in the garden and at the markets is enough to inspire the most unimpressed cook. There’s green, yellow, orange, red and even chocolate available in the pepper palette. We can’t help ourselves; we pick a few up, maybe one of every color, for our culinary experiments.
Peppers belong to an extensive tropical family of the capsicum plant, which is native to Mexico, and Central and South America. The discovery of this wild edible had a huge impact on culinary traditions dating back hundreds of years. From its native land, peppers found their way around the world and are now a distinct element of cuisines everywhere. When Columbus returned to Europe from his journeys, with exotic foods never before seen, it was the fascinating uses for peppers that spread the fastest.
For all their popularity, peppers are perplexing. There are the bell and the chili, there are some that start out sweet, then get a little hotter, and those that are hot, then get even hotter. There are so many varieties that botanists are still counting them. It helps when choosing peppers to understand at least some of the differences.
Sweet peppers are the group that includes the bell, sweet cherry and sweet banana peppers. Most sweet peppers have thick flesh and are suitable for raw or cooked preparations, and they all have their own distinct flavor characteristics. Among the bell peppers alone, the taste will vary from the more pungent green to the very mellow yellow and gold. Hot peppers often are referred to as chili peppers and include the cayenne, jalapeno, hot banana, poblano and Anaheim. Some of these chilies also have thick flesh, and are good for raw as well as cooked preparations. Be aware of the heat scale before deciding on the right pepper for your dish.
Hot and sweet peppers are high in vitamins A, C and B-6, as well as carotenoids and flavonoids, which have been shown to have antioxidant and immune-enhancing benefits. While both sweet and hot peppers are members of the same family, the hot peppers are the ones that actually contain capsicum properties within its fruit. The medicinal and health benefits of capsicum are numerous, ranging from aiding in digestive health to pain treatment.
Peppers are good roasted, stuffed, fried or pickled, served with meats, cheeses or as a compliment to other vegetables. Peppers can be the condiment or the main dish, and even sweet peppers will stand out in any dish you add them to. This recipe for Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly preserves the pepper in a flavorful way while showcasing the best of the season’s hot and sweet varieties.
SWEET AND HOT PEPPER JELLY
You can serve this jelly as a glaze on meat or fish, or as an appetizer on crackers with cream cheese.
3/4 cup seeded and finely chopped hot peppers (such as jalapenos, scotch bonnets or habaneros)
1/4 cup seeded and finely chopped sweet peppers (such as bell peppers, sweet cherry or banana peppers)
6 cups cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
6 ounces liquid pectin
- Combine chiles with vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and strain, setting chiles aside and returning vinegar to pan. Add sugar and pectin.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim foam and add chiles. Cool in the pan until thick (like honey), about 30 minutes.
- Stir to evenly distribute chiles, then ladle into 7 sterilized half-pint mason jars. Seal and let stand at room temperature to set, about 1 hour. (Jelly can be stored in refrigerator for 1 month.) Makes 3 1/2 pints.
By Angela Shelf Medearis and Gina Harlow
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more. Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at www.peachesandprosciutto.com.
(c) 2014 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis