By Caity Moseman Wadler
The Urban Farm Lab provides and opportunity to engage in learning in a substantial way– we grow food at the Urban Farm Lab to learn about agricultural practices and engage with the community, but also, importantly, to savor the harvest. Bringing home produce from the farm extends learning from the farm classroom to our own kitchens and gives us the opportunity for focused reflection on the fruits of our labors. Through canning and other types of food preservation, we extend the period of reflection. The act of preserving food is both a throwback to an era of diets bound by seasonality, and, inherently, a look forward to the day that we break open the seal on our epicurean time capsule. Preservation, in the context of canning, has a double meaning– we preserve both the harvest and culinary tradition. It’s also an act of rebellion against contemporary food supply practices of shipping out-of-season produce great distances to avoid lapses of availability.
I first got serious about pickling when my CSA in Vermont ran a special on pickling cukes that was simply too good to pass up. Twenty pounds of cucumbers looked intimidating in the box, but I was really astonished at how quick and straightforward the pickling process was, and the delight of midwinter snacking on homemade, local pickles is hard to equal. There’s something grounding in knowing the life story of your food. Beyond that, I felt empowered as a human being. It seemed miraculous that simple biology and mechanics allowed me to create durable food products that would outlast a harsh New England winter.
We’ve had a bumper crop of jalapeño peppers at the farm this season, so I took a 5-lb bag home to pickle, can, and share. I love jalapeños, especially because they are surprising. Even if you pick two fruits off the same plant on the same day, one might be summon-the-brigadiers hot, the other, bell-pepper mild. Pickling them stabilizes the flavor somewhat, as the fire seems to average out after a few weeks in the jar, but you will still appreciate the variation between bites!
A few notes on pickle safety:
For complete canning instructions, the National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great reference.
Many university extension programs also have excellent resources and recipes for home canning, just search the web!
- It’s fine to reuse clean jars, but always use brand new lids. You can buy just the lids- most stores stock them right alongside the canning jars.
- Always stick to a published recipe— changing the acidity, salt, or sugar content might allow nasty microbial life to grow. By following the recipe, you’ll ensure that the acidity and osmotic pressure work together to inhibit the bad stuff and keep your product safe and delicious!
- Check the recommended processing times specific to your kitchen’s altitude and the size of you jars. Smaller jars require shorter processing, which leads to crunchier pickles, so I recommend pint-size or smaller.
- Be careful handling hot peppers! I strongly recommend the use of gloves to prevent skin irritation. When you’re done, keep the gloves on to do the washing up, as the oils from the peppers will likely have transferred to your knife and cutting board and can still burn you. Also, be super careful not to touch your eyes if there’s a chance you may have the oil on your hands.
I used this recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (using all jalapeños instead of a combination of sweet and hot peppers).
Final thoughts– hotness lines:
You’ve probably noticed that some jalapeños have smooth skin, while others have raised, dry-looking lines running lengthwise from stem to tip. I heard somewhere that the more lines on the pepper, the hotter it will taste. I never thought much of it until I had a particularly “liney” bunch that turned out to be explosively hot. Since then, I’ve tried to be more observant about the line to spice ratio, and while I’m still not 100% sure, I’ll issue this warning: Beware the hotness lines! I’d love to hear about your experience with liney peppers.