This is a recipe that is traditional to my native cuisine. I was thinking how best to translate to English, “Kurumulagai Uppile Pottathu” as we call refer to this pickle. Fresh Green Pepper Pickled in Brine seems the best way. That brought to mind the tongue twister about pickled peppers. Do you know it?
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”
I have memories as a child, of working on this till I could say it quickly without making a mistake. I can still say it fast, after all these years. Funny, how I considered this a huge achievement as a child!
Peppercorns are the fruit of Piper nigrum, an evergreen climbing vine native to the forests of India’s Malabar Coast . My home state of Kerala is a part of this geographical area. Today, pepper is one of spices that are exported in large quantities from India.
Black, white and green peppercorns are all products of the same plant. Each type of pepper is harvested and handled differently. Tender green pepper is harvested when the berries are immature (haven’t ripened). They’re bottled in brine to preserve them. Otherwise they start drying out and turning black. Green pepper can also be freeze dried.
When the green peppercorns turn mature they’re picked and then sun dried. These become the black pepper that we’re familiar with. White peppercorns are produced when the outed black covering is removed. When the green berries are allowed to ripen on the vine, they turn a deep pink and are processed to produce pink peppercorns.
Back home in my Palakkad Iyer community, immature green peppercorns are pickled in brine. This makes a wonderful pickle to serve with plain rice and yogurt (or curd rice as we call it here). The green peppercorns have a fresh flavour, are crunchy and less pungent.
I remember this green peppercorn pickle from my teens. Green pepper was not commonly available at the market. Yet there was always someone we knew who grew it in their back yard and would gift us some during the season. It has long been one of my favourite pickles. It is never an easy decision choosing between this one and mango pickle, my other favourite!
It’s been a while since I had Fresh Green Pepper Pickled in Brine. Fresh green pepper is scarce in parts of India where I have lived so far. Even in Kerala, green pepper is hard to find because farmers get better prices for dehyrated pepper. Green pepper also does not keep very long unless it is processed or preserved. Green peppercorn seems to be easier to find in Palakkad. My Periamma (my mother’s elder sister) lives there and usually has a couple of bottles pickled and ready to serve. The last time we visited, she gifted me a bottle of the pickle which I used very judiciously.
Last month, my daughter and her classmates went to a spice farm, as part of a school trip. She went with express instructions not to bring back any spices. My spice shelf was overflowing as it was. At some point of the day, the kids took a break and sat down somewhere on the farm. My daughtera discovered green pepper growing on some vines just next to them. She got permission, enlisted the help of her friends and brought home a whole bunch of fresh green pepper stalks.
I wasn’t very sure about how to pickle them so I called my aunt. This pickle recipe is how she makes Fresh Green Pepper Pickled in Brine. I don’t think pickle making can get any easier than this. It doesn’t even involve any chopping beyond slicing some limes. My aunt’s recipe, like most traditional recipes, doesn’t have exact measurements. It’s more of a set of instructions. I have quantified her approximations so please use this recipe as a guide.
The brine solution will be quite salty and after about a week, the peppercorn will have absorbed enough of the salt to also taste just right. If you feel that the peppercorn isn’t salty enough, you may add a little more salt to the brine solution at this time.
It is important to remember a few things while making this pickle. The green pepper should be washed and patted dry. Let it dry on a kitchen towel in the fresh air for a couple of hours. Do not pickle wet or damp green pepper or your pickle may spoil. The green peppercorns should not be removed from the stalk as you pickle them with the stalks. A few loose peppercorns are fine, though. Just put them into the bottle/ jar.
The pepper has to be pickled fresh, preferably the very day it is plucked from the vine. Don’t postpone the pickling beyond the next day or the peppercorn start discolouring and turning black. When the stalks are pickled, ensure they are completely immersed in brine or they will turn blackish in colour.