Ah, fall is here and summer’s abundance of produce has faded away. This will prob’ly be the last week for hot peppers at my farmers market, so I’m planning one final small batch of fermented jalapenos. Given the volume and variety of fermented jalapeno products currently filling the Houseproud fridge to capacity, you might ask yourself, WHY, LORD, WHY? The Mister is asking that very question, lemme tell you. However, if I keep my promise that this really will be the last batch, the Mister might not stage the intervention he’s been threatening. To you, my pets, I promise that this will be my last post about fermenting jalapenos for the season. With that promise made, here are some closing thoughts on the subject. I know that previous posts promised detailed instructions, but noooooooo: once again I’ll be offering general suggestions, because that’s the way I roll.
Wet-salt (brined) fermented jalapenos vs dry-salt fermented: As mentioned in previous posts, I like to dry-salt early season peppers and use a brine in the late season. When using the brining process, I cut jalapenos into quarters (removing stems). When dry-salting, I slice the peppers into small pieces on the diagonal to insure sufficient surface area for abundant brine production during fermentation. A mandoline will make the slicing process go much more quickly. To keep your fingers safe, hold the peppers by their stems as you draw them across the blades. Remove as many of the seeds as you can, but keep the pith for higher heat levels. Check your formulas for brine and for dry-salting, per Katz’s The Art of Fermentation and the Shockeys’ Fermented Vegetables. If dry salting, weigh the cut peppers and calculate the necessary salt (usually a 2% ratio). Brines are usually a saltier 5%, as veggies expel water during fermentation. If you don’t have a scale, you can roughly calculate the weight of trimmed peppers by recalling their purchased weight and eyeballing the parts you discarded. Honestly, though, if you haven’t the equipment or patience for being precise, just salt heavily to taste. This is true of either brined or dry-salt fermentation. Feel free to wing it, especially on smaller batches.
Watch them ferments! Put the fermentation vessels on something to capture potential brine over-flow and place on the counter out of direct sunlight, covered with a towel or screen. Make sure that the peppers are fully submersed under their brine within 24 hours. Dry-salted ferments will always need followers, which are food-safe, non-porous things to keep veggies submerged under their brines. Brine ferments in jars might not require a follower, but brines in open-mouth crocks will always need ‘em. Remember that smaller batches will ferment more quickly than larger batches. Monitor the fermenting peppers closely, checking for brine levels and mold at least twice a day. If brine levels drop, top off with some basic brine (I keep a batch of basic brine in the fridge during peak fermentation season). Skim off scum or mold, as necessary. Vigilantly monitor your ferments towards the end, as mold can form quite quickly in the right circumstances. Check your reference books if you have any concerns about scum or mold!
Whole slices? Blended? Pureed through a screen? Once the peppers are fermented to your liking, it’s time to jar them for long-time storage. If you like the consistency of the jalapeno slices, keep them whole. If the peppers have softened substantially, you have a few choices: (1) blend the peppers to a slurry; (2) puree them through a screen; or (3) laboriously scrape the flesh from each slice.
NB: I only suggest the scraping option if you have very soft quartered peppers and far too much time on your hands.
Blending the peppers is the quickest option, but the process agitates ferments like you can’t IMAGINE, and can lead to bulging lids and leakage even weeks after refrigeration. Helpful hint if using the blending option: leave at least two inches of headspace at the top of the jars and use a wax paper follower. The blending option does offer two equally good paths: you can either jar up the resulting slurry as it is, or pour it through cheesecloth to separate it into hot sauce and mash. When putting the mash in its storage jar, top it off with some of the hot sauce and a wax paper follower. Remember your mantra: submerged in brine, all will be fine. Please note: having a jar of hot pepper mash or slurry on hand means that you can make “lazy woman’s salsa” at the drop of a hat, which has become very important to me.
My favorite for hot sauce is the second option, which requires peppers that have fermented down to mush. Pushing well-fermented peppers through a screen doesn’t take nearly as long as scraping each individual pepper slice, and doesn’t agitate the ferment like the blender method.
Whichever option you choose, remember to use waxed paper toppers to protect the metal storage lids of very briny ferments, or as followers to keep drier ferments submerged in brine.
Thoughts for next season’s hot pepper batches: Add a grape leaf, or a blackberry or oak leaf to keep ferments crisp – my two trusty references suggest this, and I’ll try it with next season’s peppers. I’d also like to buy little clear glass bottles with wire swingtops – it would make dispensing hot sauce easier. And next year I’ll start fermenting hot peppers at the beginning of the season, just to have some fermented pepper slurry on hand to make “lazy woman’s salsa” as soon as the tomatoes get ripe. In addition, I’d like to make a test batch of mixed peppers for hot sauce next year, to see how that compares to a hot sauce made from just one pepper. I doubt my palate is sophisticated enough to really taste the difference, but wouldn’t THAT be a fun taste test??
And on that note, that’s it for this post. I’ll be peppering you lovely peeps (heh heh heh) with other post-season reports in the next week or so, so stay tuned for that. Until then, be well and remember to make time to enjoy these last few days before sweater weather truly kicks in. Very fondly, etc., yr little munakins.