Although not perhaps the most useful of crops, chillies are one of my favourite things to grow, and I do use them a lot in the kitchen. Since installing the two large glasshouses and polytunnel, the original 10’ x 6’ glasshouse that we started with has been freed up for growing chillies throughout the summer and autumn. In total, we have 44 plants in the ‘chilli house’, growing in 10 litre pots. Twenty of these are Hungarian Hot Wax, which I grow specifically for pickling. To my taste, they make the perfect pickled chilli. The flavour is much better than any shop bought product I have tried, and the heat level is just about right. At somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 on the scoville scale, these are pleasantly hot but not excessively so.
Hungarian Hot Wax chillies will ripen from a yellowish green through orange to a light red. For the purpose of pickling, they are ideally picked whilst yellow. In my experience, although some will ripen well, there is a tendency for them to begin to decay instead, and the flavour is ideal when yellow. They should not be confused with the similar looking Sweet Banana, which we also grow, but is a mild sweet pepper.
The Hot Wax chillies have been ready to harvest for a few weeks now, and one or two have gone past their best, so we gathered the entire crop, which produced a rather large pile for processing. Depending on the weather and when we take the first crop, the plants will often bear further fruits. Given the poor start to the season, I suspect we may not see further fruits this year.
Although chillies can be pickled whole, the Hot Wax that we produce are really too large for that to be a sensible proposition. Instead, we halve them and clean out the seeds and membrane. They can then be packed tightly into the jars.
Large jars are given a good wash and then popped into a moderate oven to sterilise. Meanwhile, the pickling liquid is prepared. Various preparations might be used, with pickling spice, bay leaves, and other flavourings. For these chillies, though, I do not think they need any additional spices, although I sometimes throw in a few bay leaves and black peppercorns. I use either a white wine or cider vinegar, which I like to sweeten considerably with white sugar. To 1.5 litres of vinegar, I add 500ml of water, a tablespoon or so of salt, and up to 500g of sugar, according to taste, bringing it all to a simmer in a large pan.
The prepared chillies are then added to the pan, a couple of handfuls at a time. After a minute or so in the hot vinegar, they are packed into the sterilised jars. A pair of narrow tongs helps to pack them in tightly. It is important that they are tightly packed so that they do not float to the top of the jars. The packed jars are topped up with the liquid and sealed. They should be left for at least a few weeks before consuming. I always refrigerate after opening, although they do not last too long around here.