Sweet and sweaty

A bunch of jalapeños means a batch of cowboy candy

Photo by Jason Cassidy

My garden sucks this year. Despite a spring spent adding new beds in more favorable locations, as well as an automated irrigation system, my blossoms have dropped en masse. Unfortunately timed heatwaves this summer have robbed me—and many fellow local gardeners to whom I’ve whined—of most tomato and melon fruits. Not all has been lost, though. The lemon cucumber and spaghetti squash yields have been respectable. And the jalapeños—those chilis I most often cook with and always do well in my yard—continue to be on fire. The time was ripe to finally make some “cowboy candy.”

My conventional use for a bumper crop of jalapeños is to combine it with the “too many” tomatoes that I normally enjoy for some homemade pico de gallo for all my tortilla chip and tri-tip-smothering needs. But the absence of tomatoes presented an opportunity for trying out this tasty-looking pickling/candying method of preserving hot peppers that I’ve come across on various recipe websites over the years.

Turns out cowboy candy is super quick and simple to make—especially if you just do the quick refrigerator pickle—and the results are amazing. I’ve tried them on a turkey burger and a grilled-chicken sandwich (both transformative) and spooned them straight out of the jar and into my mouth for an intense sweet/sour/hot snack. It’d also be a perfect contrast to a bagel with cream cheese, and would make a great addition chopped up and stirred into a potato salad or coleslaw.

After making one batch, I think I have a new staple in my fridge.

The recipe I settled on borrows bits from the glut I found online, all of which are basically the same. Other additions that I found but left out of my batch include cayenne pepper (seems overkill), celery seeds (meh) and lime zest and/or juice (next time). I included some whole red jalapeños for extra color, but you could also add a few whole cayenne or, if you’re really brave, habanero peppers to further enhance the look and flavor.

Cowboy candy


3 pounds jalapeños, sliced

Handful of additional whole chili peppers

(red jalapeño, cayenne, habanero, etc.)

6 cups sugar

2 cups vinegar (apple cider or distilled


1/2 tsp turmeric powder

8 cloves garlic, smashed

Sterilize four or five one-pint pickling jars and lids, plus a slotted spoon and a funnel.

Put on some rubber or plastic gloves. Rinse off your jalapeños and any other peppers you’re using, then cut off the stems and slice into quarter-inch rings. (You could de-seed first if you want less heat … but c’mon!) If you’re including any whole peppers, simply cut off the stems and add to the pepper pile.

Start your syrup by adding vinegar, sugar, turmeric and smashed garlic to a large saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking until sugar dissolves. Reduce to a low boil, and cook for four minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove garlic. Add all your peppers to the pot and boil for another four minutes.

Turn off heat, and with slotted spoon remove peppers and distribute evenly between jars. Turn heat on syrup back up and bring to a boil. Cook for an additional five minutes or so, until syrup begins to thicken. Funnel syrup into jars, covering peppers completely and leaving about 1/2-inch airspace at top. Tighten lids and put in the fridge. Wait one week. Enjoy! Using this refrigerator method for pickling, your cowboy candy will be good in the fridge for at least three months.