Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Think of Them as Pickled Bread and Butter Jalapeños: Sweet, Sour and Spicy.
Cowboy Candy is pickled, sliced jalapeños jarred in a sweet syrup consisting of ingredients commonly found in butter chips or bread-and-butter pickles. Their flavor profile comes from the combination of sugar, vinegar, turmeric, and mustard seed with a few other simple ingredients commonly found in sweet pickle recipes.
What makes them Cowboy Candy is the addition—and the bold heat—of the jalapeños to the sweet syrup.
Want to save this post for later? Click Here to Pin It On Pinterest!
As the story goes, Cowboy Candy first showed up as a ranch recipe in Texas about 100 years ago. Jalapeños were common and so was canning, and it didn’t take long for the two to come together.
What’s uncommon is that jalapeños have been consumed for 6,000 years starting in Mexico and that it took so long to pair them with sugar.
They’re Not Just for Snacking
They’re very popular in Tex/Mex cooking and often show up on tacos, in corn bread, chili, pulled pork, and even hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza.
True aficionados eat them as a snack although some temper the heat with a spread of cream cheese on crackers or blend them into cheese balls and even barbecue sauce.
There are dozens of jalapeño varieties and all of them work with the basic Cowboy Candy recipe whether they’re mild, hot, or fiery.
Some varieties like The Senorita are very hot with high amounts of capsaicin. That’s the chemical in peppers that makes them so hot. Other varieties like the Fresno are milder. You can even use Chipotle peppers which are smoked, red jalapeños.
Generally, jalapeños measure at 5,000 Scoville units. The Scoville scale measures the pungency and heat of various peppers in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). As a contrast, a sweet bell pepper has a Scoville rating of 0 while Serrano peppers average around 15,000 Scoville Units and the Scotch Bonnet Habenero goes as high as 350,000 Scoville Units.
In case you’re wondering, the Ghost Pepper goes above 1,000,000 and as for the Carolina Reaper, its Scoville rating goes up to and above 2 million! That’s hot.
All things considered, the jalapeño seems a bit tame at 5,000 Scoville units, but to each his own. Even then, some people find the jalapeño to be too hot and that’s why the Cowboy Candy recipe is so popular. It reduces the heat of the pepper… at least to a point.
The jalapeño variety you use is up to you, and we’re also at the mercy of what variety of jalapeño is available at the grocery store. The good news is that the recipe and the processing will temper some of the heat and the sugar will help as well.
But jalapeños are jalapeños and they will always have a bit of heat in every bite.
Cowboy Candy Variations
There are some small variations in some of the traditional recipes. Some insist that cider vinegar is the only vinegar to use while others recommend white vinegar and even a combination of white vinegar and red wine vinegar.
White sugar commonly shows up as an ingredient, but so do brown sugar and even honey. Ultimately that’s up to you. As long as you stay true to the proportions for basic ingredients you can substitute to suit your tastes.
It’s Actually a Very Simple Recipe
All you have to do is slice the jalapeños, boil and simmer the sugar brine to blend the spices, simmer the jalapeños in the syrup, and jar them. You can then refrigerate your Cowboy Candy, but processing them for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath is probably a good idea.
They’ll keep in the refrigerator up to a month, and a year or more if processed and stored properly.
Cowboy Candy Recipe
- 1 lb fresh jalapeños (about 20 to 24 average size jalapeños)
- 2/3 cup cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
- 2 cups sugar (white or brown)
- 2 tablespoons mustard seed
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, especially if you’re using a hotter variety of jalapeño like a Senorita)
- 2 one-pint canning jars with lids, sterilized
- Wash and trim the stems off of the jalapeños and slice into coin-sized rings. If you want, you can deseed the jalapeños but the traditional recipe keeps them in.
- Combine all of the ingredients except for the jalapeños in a small pot.
- Bring the pot to a quick boil and then lower the heat immediately to a simmer so you don’t boil off the small amount of vinegar.
- Stir occasionally for 5 minutes.
- Add the jalapeño pepper rings to the pot and simmer for an additional 5 minutes stirring when you feel like it.
- Scoop out the jalapeños from the pot with a slotted spoon and distribute them equally between the two canning jars.
- Pour the liquid from the small pot into the canning jars, distributing the brine evenly. Leave a ¼ inch of headspace at the top of each jar. Add a splash of vinegar if you’re a little low on liquid.
- Cover with the canning lids and refrigerate or process them.
- To process the Cowboy Candy, immerse both jars in a large pot of boiling water with at least 2 inches of water covering the lids.
- Process in boiling water for 15 minutes.
- Remove the jars from the water and let cool for 12 hours or overnight.
- Tighten the lids again after they’ve cooled and store.
- Refrigerate after opening.
A Note On Canned Jalapeños:
If peppers are out of season or your grocery store doesn’t have them in stock, you can always use canned jalapeños. Buy them whole and slice them yourself.
Cowboy Candy Nutrition Facts
It seems counterintuitive to think about nutrition with something called “candy” but jalapeños have some surprising benefits. According to WebMD:
Many of their health benefits come from a compound called capsaicin. That’s what makes the peppers spicy.
One study shows that people who ate hot peppers several times a week were 13% less likely to die during the 19-year study than those who ate few to no peppers. Researchers think capsaicin’s role in promoting blood flow and preventing obesity may contribute.“
Or as the Vulcans on Star Trek used to say, “Live long and eat jalapeños.” And while you’re at it, here’s one of the most popular recipes using Cowboy Candy if you get tired of eating them right out of the jar.
Cowboy Candy Cornbread
Most of the ways to eat Cowboy Candy are fairly straightforward. Either straight or as a simple garnish on a hot dog, hamburger, pizza, taco or cracker. But there’s one recipe with southwestern origins that seems made for Cowboy Candy: cornbread.
Cornbread goes great with anything, but when you serve up some Cowboy Candy cornbread with a bowl of chili, you’re making a meal fit for an Aztec King.
Cowboy Candy Cornbread Recipe
- 2/3 cup of butter
- 2/3 cup of white or brown sugar
- 2 cups of cornmeal
- 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 4 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 2/3 cups of milk
- 2/3 cup of Cowboy Candy chopped
- ½ cup of Cowboy Candy slices
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
- Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
- Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl until smooth.
- Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl.
- Stir eggs and milk in a third bowl.
- Pour 1/3 milk mixture and 1/3 flour mixture alternately into margarine mixture; whisk until just mixed.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients and stir in the 2/3 cup of chopped Cowboy Candy.
- Pour into the pan and top with the Cowboy Candy slices distributed evenly across the top.
- Bake in a preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 22 to 26 minutes.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before slicing.
And Why Stop with Jalapeños?
After you’ve made your first batch of Cowboy Candy, it may be worth thinking about extending the recipe to other types of hot peppers. Start with Poblanos or banana peppers and then take it up a notch to Serranos or Red Chiles.
The bread and butter chip ingredients have a way of taming the heat in any pepper, and it just may make some shy friends or family members a little bolder when the peppers hit the table. You know… like a cowboy.
Like this post? Don’t Forget to Pin It On Pinterest!