I haven’t been cooking much, but what little I’ve done has prepared our house for the winter ahead. I think it helps that I live in a micro-climate that seems to be warmer than other, more open properties. My tomato plants were still green as could be before I pulled them out yesterday, for example, and I ate my last raspberry yesterday, too. I’ll probably still pick some bedraggled basil this week. So it’s kind of weird to be making apple butter at the same time I’m still pickling and freezing summer. But I am.
I made ajvar out of my own peppers and those I got from others, roasting about 10 lbs. of ripe, red ones with a couple of smallish Italian eggplants. After removing the skins, I blended everything together with some olive oil and salt, and froze it in small containers. It makes a great thickener for soups and layers well with bread or pasta.
The other peppers, mainly Hungarian ones from Jeff Eaton but also some Ethiopian berebere that I grew on my own and some random jalapeños left over from making pepper vinegar — were dried for several days in the dehydrator. I was aiming for flavor over speed. One batch (above) I roasted on the grill before drying to make smoked paprika. Not as good as the Spanish stuff, but not bad.
Then there’s my discovery of the year, the one product I’m not sure I can live without.
Just fill a 3L or so jar with halved pieces of jalapeño and other hot peppers, add a brine made from 2-1/2 tablespoons of pickling salt to each quart of water, and add a weight to the top so the peppers stay submerged. Leave on the counter for about 2-3 weeks, skimming off scum occasionally and making sure the peppers are below the liquid, then refrigerate when they are as sour as you like them.
The peppers in brine won’t bubble as much as dill pickles do, but you should see some bubbles on the surface after 2-3 days. Instead of being bleached and exhausted by the vinegar, the flavor of the peppers is enhanced and deepened.
I have been using the peppers in everything this fall — my salsas, stir-fries, pasta, eggs, greens, beans, meat marinades. Already went through a half-gallon, so I put up two more large jars with the hopes that they’ll last me through the winter.
The sour, slightly salty, spicy brine that’s left behind is delicious and full-flavored, wonderful splashed in vegetables or used to deglaze a pan. The only thing to remember: store it in the refrigerator, or the particles in the brine will continue to ferment and create more scum growth on the top of the jar.