Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Canning 101, Hot Pepper Butter and My Trip to Hell and Back

I planted 5 banana pepper plants in the garden this year. My first time trying to grow them, I didn't hold out too much hope, given the measley 1 or 2 jalapeno's I've managed to grow in the past. The banana peppers ended up being the best producing plant in the garden this year...with at least 25 peppers on a plant at a time, we were overrun with peppers. The picture at the top of this blog are some of our peppers.

I planted the peppers so I could make one of my favorite canned foods: hot pepper butter. My sister-in-law Michele introduced this to me a few years ago in WV and it is one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. It's not dairy butter, think more like apple butter. And actually it's more of a sweet and hot mustard that is awesome on sandwiches or mixed in cream cheese for a dip. I now have over 30 half pints of the stuff in my pantry, and the plants are still loaded with peppers!

This post will show how I make the pepper butter with some basic canning steps/rules along the way.

Step 1: Always put on comfortable shoes before you attempt to can anything. Please disregard my white Casper legs, the pool closed early on us this year, ok?

Step 2. This is what you need to get if you want to can anything. I put this picture here because usually these things are harder to find in your grocery store than hen's teeth and I wanted you to know what they look like. Try to channel your store manager's brain or try the seasonal aisle, the charcoal aisle, sometimes the baking aisle (again might want to consider the comfortable shoes as you hunt for these) These are half pint jars, but they also come in pint and quart size as well. 1 half pint of pepper butter mixes perfectly with an 8oz block of cream cheese so I choose 1/2 pint for pepper butter.

Step 3. There are 3 pieces to each jar: the jar, the lid and the ring. Everything but the lid is reusable. Start a big pot of water boiling and put the jars in there to sterilize for at least 5 minutes. I do this first thing and they just kind of hang out in there until I am ready. There's nothing worse than having to wait for your jars to sterilize.

Step 4. Pick a peck of pickled peppers (or just go to the grocery store) You will need about 40 large banana peppers. Mine are in different shades of ripe as you can see.


I want to re-enforce step 5 with the story of my trip to hell and back. The first time I made pepper butter I ignored this rule. As I chopped and seeded the peppers, I told myself I'd put gloves on if it started to burn. I made it through 40 peppers (some of them were so hot they made me cough and sneeze just smelling them). I was even brazen enough to reach in each pepper with my finger to get the seeds out. I washed my hands good with soap and congratulated myself for being tough enough to not need gloves.

I finished making the pepper butter, and went outside with JW to check his garden. It was a typical 95 degree high humidity August day. As soon as my hands hit that heat they started to burn. By the time I got to the garden, I knew something was terribly wrong. Intense heat was radiating from both hands. I ran back inside and washed them again, only to make it worse. Then I got the bright idea to go to the pool and soak my hands in the cool water. So we pack the kids up and went to the pool. I get in the pool, put my hands in the water and it is like I stuck them directly through the gates of hell into a fiery flame. I ran out of the pool and went straight to the grill to ask for a can of soda to wrap my hands around. My hands are now plastered to the can and I'm in a complete panic. I tell the kids to get out of the pool we got to go home, NOW! By this time my hand and fingers are starting to swell. I start thinking of any possible thing to try and research on the internet. I tried everything, even putting my hands in Maalox and baking soda. Finally the only thing that worked was putting my hands in cold milk. As soon as the milk warmed up, it stopped working. So I somehow managed to sleep (or lay) all night with both hands in a bowl of milk, that I had to keep swapping out for cold milk. By about 4 am after a sleepless night, the fire started to ease up.

Lesson learned: I will NEVER touch another pepper without gloves, I even get a little nervous around a bell pepper. Post traumatic stress disorder, no doubt. Another lesson, if you eat something hot, drink milk NOT water!!

Step 6. Did I mention put gloves on? Double them if you can. I do, refer to step 5. Cut the ends off and then put a skinny knife down inside the pepper and rotate 360 degrees to get the seeds out. I could not do this and take a picture so the picture below is the carnage that remains in the sink. Don't worry if a few seeds get missed.

Step 7. Chop the seeded peppers finely in a food processor, you should have about 1 quart.

Step 8. Put in all in a large pot. Add 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart mustard and 6 cups sugar and 1 tsp salt. Start heating and continue to stir constantly.

Step 9. Whisk 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water until there are no lumps and add to the heated pepper mixture.

Step 10. Keep stirring until the mixture starts to thicken up. I test it with a spoon

Step 11. Get your sterilized jars out and fill while they are still warm. These jar lifters are essential.

Step 12. Fill the jars with one of these funnel thingies, makes it much easier!

Step 13. Scoop some water out of your big pot where you sterilized the jars. Put your lids in there. They just need to warm up so the wax can make a good seal. Don't ever boil them.

Step 14. Leave 1/4 inch headspace in your jar. Get one of these cool measurers.

Step 15. Wipe the rims with a wet paper towel so the jars will seal properly.

Step 16. Grab a lid with one of these magnetic lid lifters.

Step 17. Put the lids on and then the rings.

Step 18. Lower into a hot water bath and process for 10 minutes. There should be about 1/2 inch of water above your jars.

Finally, the finished product! This made 16 1/2 half pint jars. The 1/2 jar I put right in the fridge.

If this seems like too much work, you can always come and get some of my stash (don't tell Jason I told you that!)

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