Friday, September 7, 2007

Sweet Peppers: Red and Ripe

The sweet red peppers of late summer are starting to come in, and they are beautiful, smooth and shiny, and really, really red. (There are yellow and orange ones now, too.) They are one of my favorite vegetables, so I’m happy to see them.

A red pepper is, first and foremost, a ripe pepper—what a green pepper evolves to if not picked early but left to become what it was meant to be. A member of the nightshade family, like the tomato, red peppers are, also like the tomato, loaded with vitamins A and C. Their sweetness is thanks to a recessive gene that knocks out the hotness compound of chili peppers, capsaicin, and the sweetness of local peppers is usually superior to that of the red bells imported from Holland or Canada, which can be iffy--even downright flat. And of course the peppers from your neighborhood farmer are less expensive, too.

Local red peppers will be abundant now through September or early October if this glorious weather holds, giving you ample time to find a few hours with which to make something fresh-tasting for the dark days of winter—a crisp and juicy red pepper relish, your own roasted peppers preserved in oil, a soup base or sauce for the freezer. In fact, peppers themselves freeze well, without blanching, just like blueberries. Trim, core, de-seed- and de-vein them; cut them as you wish (quartered, sliced, diced); spread them out on sheet pans and freeze until firm; transfer to doubled Ziplock® bags and store in the freezer.

Little Compton Red Pepper Relish

You can use any combination of pepper colors, but the all red is just so brilliant. You can make a “sweet” or “hot” version, or both. If possible, especially given the small quantity, dice by hand with a very sharp knife. Like the corn relish, excellent on hot dogs and sausages, burgers, with cheese and meats. Makes 1 ½ pints.

5 cups red pepper, diced small
2 cups sweet onion, diced small
1 tea coarse salt
boiling water

1-1 ¼ cups white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup white vinegar

2 tea crushed fresh hot red pepper (optional; see Note)
1/8 tea cayenne (optional)

In a large pan, cover the pepper, onion, and salt with boiling water (a cup or so), and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and return the vegetables to the pot. Add a cup of the white sugar, the brown sugar, and the vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium, still bubbling briskly but not a wild boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Taste and, if desired, add the remaining ¼ cup sugar. If you want it a little hot, also add the crushed pepper and cayenne at this point. Cook another 10-15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed/evaporated, and a wooden spoon drawn across the pan bottom creates a gutter in the relish mixture; the relish should hold together lightly and have a slightly syrupy quality. Taste again; if it needs a dash of salt, add it, and cook a few more seconds to dissolve. Ladle into clean hot jars and seal. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Note: I use a local product, Grampy Paul’s crushed hot red pepper, prepared in Westport, Massachusetts, but you can finely chop or grind fresh hot red chili pepper. Start out with a teaspoon and go from there.


Trevor said...

Looks great! Do you can this or just put it in the fridge?

Jane said...

Thanks, Trevor. I do not process it. I regrigerate jars I plan to use over the next several months, and freeze jars that I want to keep for longer.