by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's the time of year when I try for a delicate balance of harvesting. I want to let everything get as ripe as possible, but also don't want to be out trying to harvest it all some blustery evening as the temperatures plummet (or snow is starting to fall). So I watch the forecasts, keeping in mind my own micro-climate's min/max thermometer readings. So far, the lowest we've had here has been 37 degrees, but the forecasts for the next few nights are back above 40. So, I'm still bringing things in at a pace that allows me to properly put up the harvest for later.
This evening, it was time for one of my favorite harvest rituals - roasting chiles. None of my big New Mexico chiles have ripened to the red stage where they can be strung into ristras to dry. But I did manage to get a basket full of nice thick green ones to roast, with some more immature ones left on the plants for maybe a bit longer.
Picking chiles at the proper stage for roasting is done mainly by feel. Immature chiles won't be "meaty" enough to have much left after roasting and peeling. Immature ones have a ridge-y thin feel to them, and are often a bit lighter green in color. The perfect chiles have a glossy smooth, heavy feel to them. They might have a bit of reddish-orange color starting to show, but once they're completely red they're better dried. The chiles will snap off the plants at the junction of plant and stem, but I then cut the curving stems close to the fruit so they won't later catch in the grill. I try to pick chiles late in the afternoon, on a beautiful still day. I roast them outside on the deck, so I want a nice evening to enjoy this fall task. Ideally, I have a bottle of white wine chilled in the refrigerator, too.
I fire up the barbecue grill, all three burners on high; get tongs and a paper sack; and pour myself a glass of wine. The idea is to roast the chiles on all sides enough to have the skins darken and start to split apart (wearing eye protection isn't a bad idea), but not so much as to char the insides. Using the tongs, turn the chiles to get all sides; leaning curved ones against the others to roast the outside curve, mashing and flattening them if necessary as they soften and split to allow the inside curves to roast too. I sip my wine, savor the wonderful smell wafting from the grill, look out over the valley as the setting sun lights up the hills beyond, and mentally voice a little toast/prayer of thanks for another year's bounty.
When the chiles are properly roasted on all sides, they're dropped into the waiting paper bag. When all are done, the bag is wrapped around and the chiles sweat and cool. The chiles emit an oily juice that will soak through the bag, so mind where you place the bag, and wash your hands if you get any on them. The bag and all can be put into the refrigerator for a day or so, if there isn't time to peel the chiles immediately. When ready to peel the chiles, WEAR GLOVES (I like latex surgical ones for working with both tomatoes and hot peppers). Rip open the bag, take a chile and peel away the tough skin, scraping gently with a paring knife if necessary. Cut off the cap at the top, and split the chile up one side if it hasn't split already. Slide the knife under the stringy ribs to slice them away, and scrape most of the seeds off the top of the chile. Use the knife to lift the chile, and dunk it in a bowl of water to rinse off remaining seeds and skin bits. I tuck and fold each chile into a flat little square "packet" and put them on a cookie sheet. Important: do NOT touch your eyes or nose - after removing your gloves, wash your hands, under fingernails too, with soap and water - BEFORE using the toilet too! After freezing the chiles on the sheet, I dump them into a freezer bag for later. Aries likes to take one out to make an ortega burger or chicken sandwich; I chop and add some to chili or other Mexican recipes throughout the year, or when I'm ready to can a batch of salsa.
When I really get a bumper crop, I also can some in half-pints. Pack roasted and peeled chiles, whole or chopped, into sterilized jars to ½" headspace, (optional - add ¼ teaspoon non-iodized salt and/or ¼ teaspoon lemon juice to each jar). Do not add any extra water (if canning with added boiling water, leave 1" headspace). Seal and process in a pressure cooker or canner with a couple inches of water; 10 minutes venting steam, then to 10 pounds pressure at sea level, 15 pounds above 1,000 ft (for higher altitudes pressure is increased, not processing time); for 35 minutes at pressure. Let canner cool to zero pressure on its own before opening. As with any canned vegetable, chiles should be boiled 10 minutes before eating, so canned chiles are best used in soups and chili. Be forewarned that canning chiles ups the heat factor too - use discretion when adding to recipes.