For many cooks and gardeners, preserving the summer's chilli peppers in vinegar is an annual ritual, providing a tangy and spicy condiment for the coming months. Chilli peppers, although they certainly have some acidity of their own, don't have enough to be safely canned without the use of a relatively costly pressure canner. By pickling the chilli peppers in vinegar, homemakers raise the peppers' acidity enough to use the simpler water-bath variety of canner.
Select your peppers carefully. Any variety of chillies can be pickled, separately or mixed, but they must all be of very high quality. Choose firm, glossy peppers with no visible blemishes or damage. They should not be wrinkled or rubbery. You need approximately 0.454kg. of peppers for every pint jar, so 4.08kg. accommodates a full canner load.
Wear disposable kitchen gloves at all times when handling chilli peppers. The active ingredient, capsaicin, can cause skin irritation for some people and is extremely painful if any gets on the membranes of the eyes or nose.
Char the peppers' skins in a hot skillet, under the grill or on a gas grill outdoors. The peppers will release a potent smoke, so outdoors is preferable. Place the blistered peppers in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic film wrap, and leave the peppers to steam for 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the blistered skins by rubbing them off as you rinse the peppers under cold running water. Slice large chillies, if desired, or halve and quarter them. Cut a slit into the side of smaller chillies to allow the pickle juice inside. Remove the seeds, if you wish, for a milder flavour.
Boil a large pot of water. You'll use this to fill the canner so it doesn't take as long to come to a boil once the canning process is underway.
Simmer five cups of white vinegar in a saucepan with one cup of water, 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp of sugar, 4 tsp of non-iodised coarse pickling salt and the optional flavourings of your choice. Boil the vinegar mixture for 10 minutes, then strain to remove the garlic and any optional flavourings.
Fill sterilised canning jars loosely with the peppers, so the vinegar can circulate freely around them. Fill the jars with the hot vinegar solution, leaving 1/2 inch of clearance, or headspace, at the top. Screw the sterilised lids on, finger tight but no tighter.
Fill the canner basket with jars, and fill the canner with the preheated water until the jars are submerged to a depth of 1 or 2 inches.
Bring to a boil, and process the pint jars for a full 10 minutes from the time the water reaches a full rolling boil.
Remove the processed jars from the canner, and set them in a warm place to cool slowly. When they are at room temperature, press down on the lid of each jar to ensure it sealed properly. If the lid buckles and pops back, then the jar did not seal properly. Refrigerate it immediately, and discard the jar once you've eaten the peppers.