Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Audacity!

"Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp," said Joseph, really interested. "A chili," said Rebecca, gasping. "Oh yes." She thought a chilly was something cool as its name imported and she was served with some. "Water," she cried. "For Heavens sake, water!"

From Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

So I've been watching the Democratic National Convention...oh wait, I'm mostly listening to the Democratic National Convention - television ablare while I goof around in the kitchen or scrub out a toilet, or whatever I feel like I need to be doing in a multi-tasking fashion - and I think about the the wonderful title of Obama's book The Audacity of Hope and it makes me think about...peppers.

You see, I have two containers of peppers growing in the back deck garden. Here's one.

Looks pretty good, I think. I bought transplants at the nursery for this one. I have a jalepeno, a pimento, a chili red, and a cayenne. The plants have produced steadily all summer, giving me smallish but reliable fruit, and I've been harvesting 3 to 6 peppers a week lately.

Here's the other one.

This one came about in a fashion that can only be described as pretty fast and loose. I planted some seeds in a couple of spare pots and forgot to label them. Then I bought this container and decided to dig up the best looking six plants, put them into the container and hoped for the best.

Well...the nerve! Conventional wisdom says that fruiting plants like peppers should not be started outside because the growing season isn't long enough. So what's going on here? Why are my hussy plants so big and flamboyant? (and productive - after a week or two of heat forced dormancy they are blossoming and fruiting like crazy!)

I have two thoughts about this. One is that the growing season in Georgia is long, probably longer than it used to be, but temperatures reach the 70's in early April and continue to do so until late October and even into November some years. The other thing that appears to be a factor in this flauntish foliage is the type of pot that the larger peppers inhabit. It has a trademarked name but I'm going to call it a self-contained watering system which is a pot that has a resevoir filled with water that the roots grow into instead of soil.

My guess is that this kind of container replicates, for a container plant, some of the same conditions that a really happy "in the ground" plant has. I'd been hearing about these containers for years and had sort of dismissed the plaudits as hyperbole, but I think I'm convinced now. I'd love to retro-fit my existing containers to be self-watering. Does anyone have experience with this?

Here's a typical haul from both pots.

What you see here are a mixture of jalepenos, cayennes, anchos, and hungarian wax peppers. What to do with them? I could chop them up and freeze them for later, but what I feel like doing is making pickled pepppers.

Rinse a good couple of handfuls of peppers.

You could leave them whole but I split and seed them because, in terms of heat, seeds are your wild card...you just never know.

Blanch the peppers in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes and drain. In the meantime simmer together -
3 cups of vinegar - I used a half and half of rice vinegar and white
3 cloves of garlic peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon regular sugar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teasspoon whole black peppercorns
small onion sliced

Put the peppers into a glass bowl or a very clean (as in, run through the dishwasher or washed in very hot water) glass jar. Pour the vinegar mixture through a strainer into the pepper container.

I put a couple of cayennes into the jar. I also used too big a jar and had to do up some extra vinegar solution so I would recommend really stuffing those peppers into something smaller than a jar that once held spaghetti sauce.

This is not a preserve! These pickled peppers are meant to be refrigerated and eaten within one to three weeks. This is not a hot bath canning recipe so I would recommend discarding the pickles if you haven't finish them within the time period indicated.

Peppers are native to the Americas but they are excellent travellers. They've been embraced and cultivated all over the world ever since Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of what was dubbed at the time Hispaniola. So giving. So delicious. So, dare I say, audacious?

Today's Twist

Vanity Fair
is a much over looked classic. It features an enormously attractive heroine, the very audacious, Becky Sharp. She overcomes many obstacles, time and again, to gain a comfortable place in life. As she is written by Thackeray, she also seems like a classic example of a sociopath. I think industrialization might have set genuis writers like Thackeray and Dickens, his contemporary, toward portraying examples of this sort of unnerving individual. Input? Anyone?
In the quoted scene, Becky has, in the lingo of the time, "set her cap" for Joseph Sedley, a boring and bluff, colonial who has no idea what he is up against.

The pepper served to Becky was probably pickled as the fresh chili pepper was a garden novelty at the time.

Thackeray himself, a product of a family who helped to colonize India, had a propensity toward heat. His love for peppers was well documented and described. He died of a stroke at 53.


Wordsmiths Books said...

if you ever care to share some of those pickled peppers, you should know that peppers are a minor (very minor) hobby of mine. i mean, i obviously defer to you in terms of knowledge, i just know what i like (ultra, super, mega hot peppers with interesting tastes that result from it). i think richard blais was actually experimenting with ways...or maybe the pura vida chef?...to get the TASTE of super-hot peppers without the heat, so that they could be played with further...

anyway, i guess i'm saying if you ever want to share some peppers, i'd happily take some off your hands.:)


Dea Anne said...

Russ -
It's true that some of the hottest peppers have the best flavors - fruity, deep, complex. I'm not one of those folks who like hot for hot sake so I'm really interested in what these chefs are doing. Keep me posted...and yes, maybbe I'll make a jar just for you.

Tiffany said...

Ooh, yum. This sounds like a great use for all those peppers!

Dea Anne said...

Thanks Tiffany! I finally dipped into the peppers today and they are scrumptious. Peppers are so easy to grow...and so easy to find yourself with more than you know what to do with. By the way, I love your tip about pesto with eggs. It sounds delicious, and looks so pretty!