Eat the landscape: Pickled Peppers

Hot peppers are the perfect small bushes for hot, sunny areas where other plants may not survive. Habaneros are especially cute in the fall because they have orange fruit for your traditional fall color. It can be in short supply here, flaming sumac aside. It is reported that you can eat the fruits of the flaming sumac, but I haven’t tried them yet.

Wait for me to try the flaming sumac fruits, and see if I live to tell the tale before you go do it. If I have posted an unfamiliar native plant in my recipes, I assure you I have eaten it repeatedly with no ill effect. Then I give it to my son to eat and see what happens. He’s my first-born, and thus, the experimental child.

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A colorful mix of peppers and onion on the left and pickled habaneros hiding on the right.

For this giardiniera recipe, I used the puny green bell peppers I managed to grow this year, jalapeños that turned red on the bush, and store-bought onions. The smaller jar contains pickled habaneros.

An Austin restaurant, Azul Tequila, serves a red onion-habanero pickle with their carnitas de puerco dish. I love it, and it is easy to make.  You don’t have to process that pickle dish to use it. YES, EASY PICKLE. You can make this “quick pickle” by soaking the onions and peppers in vinegar for a few hours before serving.

For canning purposes, you’ll have a few more steps. After years of pickling, I have come up with a flavor profile I prefer, but I am not going to throw that at you. My one piece of advice for flavoring is to mix water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a proportion you find tasty. Then pick your choice of herbs/spices. If you don’t like vinegar, you must use another type of acid to lower the Ph. People have actually gotten botulism from home-canned goods.

Then again, some people are gross and leave the Thanksgiving turkey out all night on the table and make soup of it in the morning after the cats gnawed on it. (True story from a friend whose in-laws do not follow proper hand washing technique…and more! My friend did not eat the soup.)

Please, please boil the jars for at least ten minutes. But not the lid with the wax ring. You boil that, you weaken the seal when you put it on your finished product. Anyone who tells you otherwise is working with out-of-date information. Hot, soapy water will clean them sufficiently. No bumpy/jagged edges for the glass, either.

  1. A 3:1 vinegar (does not really matter which kind) to water ratio. Or more vinegar if you like it.
  2. Salt to taste. We aren’t fermenting, so it’s not that important. Only Kosher salt!
  3. Sugar to taste–or none. I like to take the edge off the vinegar with it.
  4. Spices/herbs like mustard seed, peppercorns, or dill. It’s really up to you and the herbs and spices you prefer.
  5. Tightly pack your veggies, and pour the hot brine on them. Leave a bit of space (1/4 inch or so) between the filling and rim. Wipe rim dry with a dampened towel.
  6. Put the lid and band on, and boil for at least 10 minutes. Take out, let cool before storing.

I’ve never had the seal not “pop” shut. But if a jar doesn’t pop shut after a couple of hours, do not store the jar. Process with a new lid.

I have overfilled jars before, which I notice when I put the lid on, try to close the jar, and hot brine overflows. WHOOPS.  Just dump some of the brine out, wipe the rim and lid, and close it again.

 

Chile Pequin Recipe: Eat the Landscape

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Ingredients for a chile piquin hot sauce–Tabasco style.

 

I’ve dried these in the oven before for ground red pepper. You can also wait for them to dry on the plant. Then you cut the stems and shake the peppers off. 

You can pick the green or red peppers and use them in salsa–however you’d use a hot pepper.

There’s a lot of educational stuff below the recipe. Read it if you are interested in using more of your landscape for food. You probably should read it because, you know, zombie apocalypse. You’ll need this information when that happens.

Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup chile pequin peppers (AKA Chile petin, Bird pepper, Turkey pepper)
  2. 1/2 cup onion
  3. 1.5 tbsp. minced garlic
  4. 1 cup vinegar
  5. Salt to taste

 

RECIPE (Go see Emeril Lagasse for a better explanation.)

  1. Get a kid to harvest the red berries of the Grand Chile Pequin. This will cost you a few additional dollars for allowance. But the tedium you avoid is worth a 5 note. I don’t use the green berries because they aren’t as fragrant.
  2. Emeril’s recipe: He says 20 serranos or tabascos. Depending on your love of spiciness, get 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the pequin peppers.
  3. A clove or two of minced garlic. I also mush mine with the knife and some salt. Mom taught me to do that.
  4. A half of a medium onion. He says to slice thinly. It hardly matters because:
  5. Sautee for 3 minutes. Put 2 cups of water in and cook down for about 20 minutes until the liquid is gone.
  6. Blender. With a cup of vinegar. He said to use white vinegar, so I did. I doubt something untoward will happen should you use white wine vinegar. BUT WHO KNOWS. I live dangerously.
  7. Sieve it. Then do it again. And again. And again. Until you’ve got more of a liquid than a thick Pepper Smoothie.
  8. Put in a sterile (boiled 10 minutes) jar. Lid. Put in fridge for at least 2 weeks. Because Emeril says so.

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ALL THE GOOD INFORMATION

Chile pequin is an excellent landscaping bush for scorching, dry locations. And you can eat the berries. Well, peppers. Those suckers are hot! I prefer to plant bushes that serve a dual purpose. Either feed me or some animal around here–or be gone. You can’t just sit here looking pretty!

Being a native plant, the piquin has done swimmingly through both the droughts and the rains. It’s found throughout the Americas. If you are in a northern region, it would probably be an annual. But I don’t know that for sure! It dies down to the ground here in cold winters. (Yes, it does get cold in Austin. Not Minnesota cold, but enough to kill most tropical/sub-tropical plants.)

There aren’t a whole heck of a lot of recipes for some of the native landscaping plants you can find in Austin. (winecups…they tell me at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center that you can eat the tubers. Huh.)

But these are chili peppers. Seriously. This is easy. Mash ’em. Fry ’em. Put ’em in a stew. <<<—waaaiiit. That’s taters. That’s the speech Samwise Gamgee gives to Golum. Wrong plant. WAIT AGAIN. Those capsicum annuums are members of the potato family.

 

 

 

 

Low Sugar Black Spanish Jelly

Recipe

  • 4 cups of fresh grape juice
  • 1.5 Tbsp of low sugar pectin
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • As always, sterilize your jars in boiling water and then process them in a boiling water bath.
  • Consult the Kerr, Ball, and Martha Stewart websites for more detail on ingredient quantities.

In Austin and much of Texas, you can add a grape vine to your landscape without it looking out of place. There’s no one way to grow a grape vine. You can put in a trellis and have it climb up. You can head prune. So many ways to grow them. The important factor being that you trim heavily when the vine is dormant in the winter.

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Not the most spreadable of the jellies I have made.

I tried a low sugar pectin this year. I was cautious with the addition of pectin and sugar, but there were lumps I still had to remove. I think my reduced grape juice had a fair amount of pectin to start. Last year I just cooked the grapes down to a butter without pectin.

Anyhow, the flavor is better than usual jelly. It’s tart like a Fruit Roll-Up but not as chewy.

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Zinfandel grape vine

As you can see from the picture above, it’s easy to add a grape vine to a landscape. Some are more productive than others. I have had remarkable luck with the Black Spanish vine in most years. The hotter and drier, the more fruit it makes. It does well here because it is a native vine to the South.

That being said, a single zinfandel vine alone can make enough to fulfill your backyard grape needs. Black Spanish vines make sparse grape clusters, so you would do well with 3-4 vines. (I should tell you that I take a hands-off approach for native plants. I’m sure with careful viticulture that you would get better clusters.)

You have a choice here if your your yard is small. There are costs/benefits to both vines. We had an extraordinarily wet spring, which ruined the zinfandel crop. The Black Spanish produced as always. But in most years, I would just need the one zinfandel vine. You are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Whichever decision you make, be assured it will as right as it is wrong.

An additional note: You can eat the zinfandels from the vine. Black Spanish grapes are too tart and the skins too thick for table eating. Both clusters will have unripened grapes on them. That’s just the way it is. Chuck the green ones.

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Black Spanish makes a near-black jelly.

Or if you have zero interest in canning, you can walk out in the yard and eat the grapes off the vine while they are still warm from the hot summer sun. You can spit the seeds right into the lawn. Composting!

Turk’s Cap and Mexican Tarragon Meringues

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Fluffy and Crunchy!

What you’ll need:

  • A decent Recipe for meringue which will include: egg whites, pinch of salt, confectioner’s sugar, and if desired, cream of tartar to stiffen the peaks. Lots can go wrong when you make meringues. Have patience with both the whipping of the whites, inclusion of sugar, and low heat baking. It took me about 2.5 hours of baking at 170-200 to get the cookies to dehydrate and solidify.
  • A handful of Turk’s cap flowers
  • 4-5 Mexican tarragon leaves (also known as Mexican mint marigold)
  • Blender for the sugar and dried flowers
  • Parchment paper
  • Cookie sheet

I endeavor to use the plants in my garden, particularly the native ones, in my cooking. I’ll admit that I haven’t had a whole lot of luck with the Turk’s cap in past recipes because there isn’t much flavor there.

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One of the many flowers on this bush

I had a ton of egg whites left over from making an icebox lemon pie and had to find a use for them. I don’t care for plain meringues, so I began looking up flavorful recipes. That’s when it hit me: I could use Mexican tarragon for flavor and my Turks cap for color. Mexican tarragon has a slight anise/licorice scent to it, which I figured would add a nice fragrance to this plain fluff of a cookie.

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Mexican tarragon in my garden.

After picking the Turk’s cap, make sure to remove the stamens and any leaf parts that get in there.  They aren’t poisonous, but they will muddle the pink color. Rinse thoroughly to ensure all the little bugs and pollen have been washed off.

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Next, you’ll have to dehydrate the tarragon and petals. I set my oven for 250 for 5 minutes and checked on the progress. It took me 15 minutes to get the petals nice and crispy. You’ll note that there is very little tarragon in there–maybe 4-5 leaves. It can become overpowering fast, so it’s best to use just a bit.

meringue-cookie-turks-cap-dehydrateThe next step is to put the confectioner’s sugar in the blender with the desiccated petals. The resulting mix should turn out sort of light pink depending on how many petals you used.

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Make sure your petals are very dry or they’ll make a mess of the confectioner’s sugar.

Some bakers insist that you cannot make meringues in humid weather. You can, but you will need to cook them at a lower temperature and for much longer than the 2 hours most recipes provide. I started at 200 degrees, but my meringues started browning. So I turned the over down to 170 for the rest of the process.

Some meringues hardened faster than others. If they are still chewy when you take them out, you haven’t cooked them long enough. Visit Martha Stewart for more advice on meringue cookies.

Startled Stella

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I found this lovely dolly at Mercader Antiques in the Houston Heights. Oh, she doesn’t look all that scary in person. Like most of today’s celebrities, she’s been heavily Photoshopped. (Okay, she’s a total wreck in person, too.)

I’d been to that shop before a couple of years ago and noticed their rather extensive doll assortment. I hadn’t bought anything that time, regretfully. This time around, however, I was determined to find myself a really hideous mess to bring home.

In all honesty, this antique shop is totally normal and has nice stuff–including collectable composite dolls in good condition. I ended up grabbing a Patsy Ann doll. I had no idea who or what a Patsy Ann was. All I knew is that the doll looked like my little girl and was in fair enough condition that it was still cute as a button. Patsy Ann is hanging out with my adorable Claudette now.

At this point, I have so many composite dolls from the 1930s that I should probably learn how to clean them up. I learned last night that these dolls’ eyes get all jacked up and cloudy because that is what happens to acrylic doll eyes. I should just probably walk away from this idea, though. I have enough hobbies already.

The Beavers of Slaughter Creek

Not sure where we’d be able to find real beavers near our house, so the stuffies had to suffice. These are a part of my kid’s large collection of stuffed beavers. I think he picked out the most beaver-like ones. His favorite is still his Ikea Klappar Baver who goes by the name Beaver. It’s nickname is Turkey “because he’s fat like a turkey.”

We attracted a small crowd on the creek. The path from the parking lot to the trail goes through the creek bed, so it wasn’t a surprise that people saw us.  A little girl sat down and watched us for a few minutes. I suppose it’s not every day that a gaggle of stuffies gets the royal treatment!