Pickling Picked Peppers Promptly

Antique Mason jars are very similar to today's Mason jars

Antique Mason jars are very similar to today's Mason jars

Fall is well underway in New England which means it time to pick and use or preserve the last of the warm weather crops before the first frosts get to them. 

Preserving food for most people in the U.S. means canning food although some people use the traditional salting, curing, drying and fermenting methods that have been around for centuries. Canning food was a technical innovation  that allowed people to preserve the taste and health benefits of food for long periods of time. And today’s canning methods aren’t very different from those of 200 years ago.

Canning’s innovation came after years of hard work, not in a sudden “aha” moment. And like many innovations in history it was spurred on with the offer of a substantial prize. Napolean offered a prize of 12,000 Francs – a princely sum in 1795 – but one that wasn’t claimed until 1809 by Nicholas Appert who discovered that you could preserve food in glass bottles using heat. Why it worked was mystery to Appert, but it worked well enough that canned foods were quickly adopted by armies and navies around the world as emergency rations and by expeditions to the North and South Poles. It would be another 50 years before the familiar glass jar, almost identical to the ones we use today, was invented by John Mason. And recently Canning has seen a resurgence of interest being featured in publications as diverse as old standbys like Mother Earth News, but also in yesterday’s  Wall Street Journal.

My most recent batch of pickled hot peppers - a mix of cayenne, scotch bonnet, hot portugal, banana and jalapeno peppers.

My most recent batch of pickled hot peppers - a mix of cayenne, scotch bonnet, hot portugal, banana and jalapeno peppers.

Back to the crops. Some people have success with squash, others carrots, but the crop that is always bountiful for me is peppers. Year in and year out, I  have a super abundant crop of hot peppers. Scotch bonnets, Jalapenos, poblano, hot portugal, banana, cayenne, and other mystery varieties. Although I only plant one or two of each variety, they produce copious amounts of fruit every year and I can only make scrambled eggs with peppers and onions so many times before my family rebels.

So I use what I can, give some away and preserve the rest. The recipe couldn’t be simpler. Mix a few spices together – allspice, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, and whole peppercorns; heat salt and vinegar on the stove; prepare the peppers by trimming stems and making two vertical slices and stuff them into the jar. Pour the hot vinegar/salt solution over the peppers covering them; seal the jars and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Keep them in a cool dark place for at least a week to allow the flavors to fully develop. Et Voila, now you have your tasty hot peppers perfect for homemade grinders or for serving over rice with grilled sausages, and suitable for gift giving to capsicum craving friends.  

What does this have to do with technology you ask. Canning was a revolutionary technology in its day and after canning was refined into the reliable, safe and easy methods we know today – it changed human history, changing forever how and when people consume food. Being able to preserve the  bounty of the season meant human diets could have fruits and vegetables out of season elimanating diet based illnesses such as scurvy.

 The tradition of spurring on technological innovations by offering a substantial cash prize continues today with the X Prize Foundation and DARPA’sGrand and Urban challenges among others. NASA and the space race of course spun off many technologies we still use today – most famously hook and loop closures AKA Velcro – but also advances in fuel cells and batteries among other things. Some of those technology spin-offs can be seen in this mission by mission timeline.

Canning is a classic technology but one that more useful than ever. What other classic technologies do you still use?

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