Tony’s Cowboy Candy

Tony is a former 3M colleague of our friend Chris.  Tony now lives in Eclectic, Alabama, with his wife on his grandparents’ farm.  Chris, who lives near New Richmond, is the guy who has served as camp cook for many years when our cabin becomes hunting headquarters during deer season.  When he and his wife Lorraine visited Tony and his spouse this summer, Tony introduced Chris to Cowboy Candy, a spicy relish that Chris really liked.   Tony gave Chris permission to share the recipe with me.  When I decided to try it, I asked Chris for Tony’s phone number.

Chris gave me the number and told me, “Tony spends lots of time outdoors, so you may have to leave a message, but he’ll call you back.”  I left a message and within an hour Tony and I were having a good conversation.  Tony and Chris had both retired from the Animal Health Group at 3M, and both enjoyed farm work (in moderation).   Today Chris cares for a couple of saddle horses, cuts hay in the summer and works with St. Croix County Fair Animal Projects; Tony returned to Eclectic, bought the 100 acre farm his grandparents had worked and now tends a large garden.

He explained that he first made Cowboy Candy when he was swamped with jalapeño peppers from that garden.  He likes to cook and belongs to an online cooking group, so he looked there for any recipes that might use lots of those little peppers.  He decided to try Cowboy Candy and was pleased with the result.  Their friends enjoyed it too, and when Chris took a jar to his son and daughter-in-law in Texas, they devoured it and proclaimed it excellent.

When Chris and Lorraine returned to New Richmond Chris brought me a copy of the recipe with his recommendation that I make it.  Chris has shared several good recipes that he treasures, a couple of which are already on Courage in the Kitchen.  Here is another one.


3 lbs. firm, fresh jalapeño peppers

2 cups cider vinegar

6 cups white granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. celery seed

3 tsp. granulated garlic

1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper


Wash the peppers and protect your hands with kitchen gloves.  Remove the stems by slicing a small disk off the stem-end of the peppers.  Discard the stems.  Slice the peppers into uniform one-eighth to one-fourth-inch rounds and set them aside in a bowl.

Stir all the other ingredients in a large pot or Dutch oven to dissolve the sugar and spices into the vinegar.  Keep stirring while the liquid comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer it for five minutes.

While you are heating the liquid, wash and sterilize seven half-pint jars.  Put seven jar lids into a small bowl and cover them with hot water a few minutes before you fill the jars.  

Add the pepper slices and simmer them for four minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peppers to the jars, filling them to within a quarter inch of the rim.  Raise the heat under the remaining liquid and bring it to a full rolling boil.  Boil it hard for six to eight minutes to create a syrup.

Ladle the boiling syrup into the jars until it is above the sliced peppers.  Use a chopstick or a thin knife to release any trapped pockets of air and add more syrup if necessary.  Wipe the rims of the jars with damp paper towels and seal the jars with canning lids and rings to finger-tip tightness.

Place the jars in a canner and cover them with water to an inch above the jars.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil and set a timer for ten minutes.  Remove the jars when the timer goes off and cool the jars on a rack.  Let the jars cool thoroughly, wipe them with a damp dishcloth and label them.

NOTES:  For the best flavor allow this relish to mellow for at least two weeks.  Tony says a month is even better.

Chris introduced the recipe this way: “The end result is delicious with a very mild level of “heat”.  Tony likes it as a garnish for hot dogs, I believe it would be fantastic on brats!”

Tony also noted that the leftover syrup is “wonderful brushed on meat on the grill or added to potato salad or, or, or… in short, don’t toss it out!”

Vegetarian Pasta Sauce for One

For the last few years, while the rest of our family is devouring the turkey at Thanksgiving or a leg of lamb at Easter, our vegetarian grandson has been treated to a main dish of macaroni and cheese. He likes mac and cheese, but I thought the time had come to make something a little more fancy for his plate at our holiday table.

I first thought about making vegetarian meatballs. There are dozens of recipes on line. However, since we buy the turkey and leg of lamb, I decided that I should not feel bad about buying the meatballs. The problem is finding them at the supermarket. I hated to do it, but I finally asked a clerk if the store had any.

I found out that I had been looking in the wrong frozen food section. Vegetarian meatballs are not shelved with the other vegetables where they belong. Instead, they are craftily concealed next to real meatballs made with honest-to-goodness beef and pork in packages disguised to look like packages of the real thing.

When I got home with the “Meatless Meatballs,” I read the cooking instructions on the package. The preferred method was to simmer the balls in sauce, which was just fine with me. All I had to do was to make a vegetarian sauce and cook some pasta to give Number One Grandson his special entrée for the dinner.

Of course I checked the web for vegetarian pasta sauce recipes and found dozens of them. Most called for adding vegetables. Adventurous cooks used squash, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, arugula, olives, celery, carrots and more esoteric ingredients to add different flavors.

Some of them looked quite interesting, but I was looking for something simple that I could make for one hungry teenager. There were simple recipes, but most called for puréeing the tomatoes and other ingredients to make a smooth sauce. I thought that a sauce with texture might be a better choice, so I decided to work up a vegetarian version of our regular spaghetti sauce sized for one or two servings.

Here is what I did.


1 T olive oil
1/4 cup onion
2 cloves garlic
3 or 4 Roma tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 – 1/3 tsp. fennel
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. basil
1/16 tsp. red chili flakes
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 – 1/2 cup green bell pepper
Parmesan cheese


Clean and chop a fourth cup of onion into a quarter-inch dice. Remove the paper and stem ends from the garlic cloves and mince them. Coat the bottom of a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil and set the pan over low heat. Put the onion and garlic into the pan and stir the vegetables every minute or so.

Wash and remove the stem ends from the tomatoes and chop them into a quarter to half-inch dice. Add the tomatoes to the pan onion once the onion is translucent. Raise the heat slightly and cook the tomatoes for two or three minutes, then add the can of tomato sauce.

Put the fennel, oregano, basil, chili flakes, black pepper and salt into a mortar and grind them to medium. Stir the spices into the sauce along with a half teaspoon of sugar. Simmer the sauce for about ten minutes.

Wash the pepper, remove the stem and white membrane and chop the pepper into a quarter-inch dice. Stir it into the sauce, bring it to a simmer and cook for four to six minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with meatballs (real or meatless) if you like or as is over ravioli, tortellini or any pasta cooked to al dente. Offer Parmesan cheese at the table.

NOTES: Obviously you can easily double or triple this recipe and also adjust the seasoning to your taste. Don’t succumb to the temptation to omit the chili flakes, as they give the sauce a little zip to contrast with the blandness of the pasta. If you don’t have chili flakes, you can use hot sauce or ground cayenne pepper. You can substitute any kind of sweet pepper if you don’t have a green bell pepper on hand.