Pick a Pepper

November 12, 2014

With fall, the days grow shorter and 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 in the pepper palette available to shoppers.  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, Central and South America.  The discovery of this wild edible had a huge impact on culinary traditions dating back hundreds of years ago. 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 of this vegetable 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 of these peppers have thick flesh and are suitable for raw or cooked preparations.  All of these sweet varieties 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 are, many times, referred to as chili peppers and include the Cayenne, the Jalapeño the Hot Banana, the Poblano, and the Anaheim.  Some of these chilies also have thick flesh are good for raw as well as cooked preparations.  It’s good to 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 B6 as well as carotenoids and flavonoids, which have been shown to possess antioxidant and immune enhancing benefits. While both sweet and hot peppers are a member of the same family, the hot peppers are ones that actually contain capsicum properties within its fruit. The medicinal and health benefits of capsicum are numerous, ranging from aid 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 seasons’ hot and sweet varieities.

 

 

 

SWEET AND HOT PEPPER JELLY

MAKES 3 1⁄2 PINTS

 

You can serve this jelly as a glaze on meat or fish or as an appetizer on crackers with  

cream cheese.

 

¾  cup seeded and finely chopped hot peppers (such as 
jalapeños, scotch bonnets, or habaneros)

¼ 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 a 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.)

 

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children's author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is "The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook." Her website is www.divapro.com.   To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and go to Hulu.com. Read Gina Harlow's blog about food and gardening at www.peachesandprosciutto.com.  Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.  (c) 2014 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis

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