Besides the peppers, your most important piece of equipment will be a pressure canner. It has the high temperatures required to kill the botulism bacteria that can be present in processed peppers. Peppers do not have the acidity to make that happen naturally though raw peppers don’t present this threat. If you are concerned about the price, remember that this canner will last you a lifetime. If you don’t have a pressure canner and can’t buy one now, consider making pickled peppers instead. You can process those using the water bath method and you can find numerous recipes by searching online or in a cookbook.
You can grow your own, pick your own or buy peppers at the grocery store, but growing your own is definitely the most satisfying and economical option, which is partly the reason you want to preserve them to begin with. Also, there is nothing that tastes quite as good as your fresh produce in the winter time. The yield on peppers is about 1-pound per pint.
I’ve found that being organized is the key to not only making sure that one canner load doesn’t take all day, but that it is just so much easier to have everything within arm’s reach. So, figure out how many jars you will probably get out of the peppers that you have and if you aren’t positive, then pull out a couple more. Make sure you have the same number of screw-bands and lids or seals. Always check your jars for cracks and chips. A chipped rim will prevent a proper seal. Your jars, if not new, should look new and your lids should always be brand new. Check the condition of your screw-bands before canning. They should not be dented or rusted and since these are re-used over and over again, a thorough check is important. Your jars should be washed with soap and water, even if they are brand new out of the box. You do not need to wash the lids, as you’ll keep them in steaming hot water until use, but the screw-bands should be washed, rinsed and set aside. If you are preserving hot peppers, you will want to have plastic or rubber gloves handy. You’ll want to have containers or cookie sheets for “blistering” (read ahead) and a regular pair of kitchen tongs and a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler. You’ll also want to have your jar lifter, a jar funnel, a clean cloth for cleaning the rims, a ladle or Pyrex measuring cup for filling the jars from the pot of boiling water and a towel, rack or newspaper handy for putting the jars on after you’ve processed them .
To keep the jars hot, after they’ve been washed and rinsed really well, I load them in my canner, fill the jars with hot water and add water to about 1/2 the height of the jars. Bring it to a boil; then reduce the heat to a simmer. Then, as I need them, I pull them out with a pair of tongs, pouring the water back into my canner. In this manner I have my canner ready to put the jars back into once full. (Make sure to check your canner’s instruction booklet for the proper depth of the water in the bottom.) You can also use the “sterilize” mode of your dishwasher and just pull the jars out as you need them. Put the lids (seals) in a saucepan. I always alternate mine, placing them facing up and down to prevent them from “nesting”. You shouldn’t boil the seals, but bring the water to steaming and then reduce the heat under them to very low, just to keep the water hot. You can lift them out with a pair of tongs, but I absolutely love my magnetic lid lifter. It’s inexpensive and works so much better than a pair of tongs or a fork to pull the lids out, saving time and aggravation.
For peppers, you also want to have a large pot of boiling water at the ready. You’ll use this to fill the jars after you’ve filled them with peppers and to add to the canner to bring up the water level if necessary.
Now, let’s get canning!
The first thing to do is to wash the peppers in either cold or lukewarm water. You can leave small peppers whole, but larger peppers should be halved or quartered with the cores and the seeds removed. Cut two to four slits in each pepper skin.
Pepper skins can turn pretty tough when processed, but you can choose to can them with or without the skins. If you want to remove the skins, you perform a process called “blistering” which loosens the skins. There are a number of ways in which you can do this:
- Frying Pan—Heat a fry pan to medium hot and lay the peppers in skin side down. It won’t take long for the skin to start to bubble and darken. If the peppers are whole you’ll want to turn them with tongs to “blister” all sides. Remove the peppers to cool and repeat the process.
- Oven or Broiler—Heat your oven or broiler to 400° – 450°F. Place peppers on a cookie sheet and put in the oven or under the broiler for 6 to 8 minutes, turning with tongs until the skin is blistered evenly on all sides. Remove peppers to cool and repeat the process until all are done. If you have a convection oven, you can use multiple shelves and use the convection option to complete this process much quicker.
- Stove Top—Place the peppers on a wire mesh screen over a hot burner. Use tongs to turn until all sides are blistered evenly. Remove to cool and repeat the process.
- Outdoor Grill—Place peppers on the grill about 5-6″ above the coals or flame. Use tongs to turn, if necessary, until blistered evenly. Remove to cool and repeat for the rest.
- Microwave—Put peppers in a microwave-safe dish that is covered with an air-tight lid so that steam can build. Pyrex® or Corning® with glass lids works the best. Microwave for 7 to 8 minutes, turning every couple of minutes if you don’t have a rotating plate. You will not be able to see the skin blister, but the skin will be more brittle compared to the raw peppers. Let the container stand for a couple of minutes to allow the process to complete and be really careful when removing the lid as steam burns are really painful! Tip the lid away from you and be careful of your hands.
As you remove the peppers to cool, place them in a container covered with a damp cloth until you are ready to peel them. This just makes the process easier. Gently remove the skins, scraping those areas that didn’t totally blister with a knife or vegetable peeler.
Pull the jars out, one by one as you fill them. Use your jar funnel, filling each jar with peppers leaving 1″ headspace, which is the distance between the peppers and the top of the jar. This will allow for expansion during processing. Then add water from the pot of boiling water, just to the top of the peppers, retaining that important 1″ headspace. Wipe the rims with a clean, moist cloth, put on a lid (seal) and twist on the screw-band. The band should be snugly finger-tightened, not twisted tightly.
Now use your jar lifter to put the jars back in your pressure canner and check the water level again. Add boiling water from the other pot to increase the water level if necessary, put the canner lid on, but leave the weight off or the valve open, depending upon the type of pressure canner you have. Turn the heat up and let the steam escape through the vent for 10 minutes. This purges the airspace inside the canner. After 10 minutes, put the weight on or close the valve and close any other openings, allowing the pressure to build to the recommended pressure for your type of canner and for the altitude where you live. If you cannot locate your canner manual, you can search for the manual online or even for the pressure recommendations for your type of canner, be it the weighted kind or dial-gauge.
After processing for 35 minutes, turn the heat off and let the canner cool down naturally. A dial-gauge will show a zero pressure and you will usually hear the “click” as the safety release vents open. Wait another three minutes and then open the vent or remove the weight to allow the rest of the steam to escape. You do not want a steam burn, so as a final precaution, tip the lid of the canner away from you as you open it. Remove the jars using your jar lifter and place them on a rack, towel or a thick layer of newspapers to cool. I absolutely love the metallic “pop” as the jars seal. It just makes me smile. Some may even seal as you are removing them from the canner, but it can take as long as overnight. Make sure the jars are in a draft-free place and one where they will not be bumped or handled. The next day you can verify the seal. The middle of the lid should be slightly concave and when pressed should not give or pop. If the seal has not happened, the middle of the lid will be slightly convex and will “pop” up and down as you push on it. Once you’ve verified the seal, you can remove the screw-band, if you wish, label the jars with the contents and the date and place them in a cool, dry, dark place. The shelf life on home-canned goods is usually one year, though if you have them longer, just make sure to do the “check and sniff” test. This just means checking the seal and the color and sniffing the contents to make sure they smell okay.