Friday, 10 April 2009

My Pepper Pantry

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
In my garden every year, one 50' soaker hose makes up the "Fruiting Bed". This includes my tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and chiles - all started from seed inside in early Spring and set out as plants in June. I always try to have 5-6 bell pepper plants, 5-6 big roasting-type chile plants, a jalapeño or two to use fresh and freeze, and then 2-3 plants of a different hot pepper each year. Last year, I grew a couple of Cayenne pepper plants, and one Habanero. Before that, Ancho chiles; year before that, Paprika.

The fully ripe hot peppers, I hang up to dry. A length of peppers sewn together for drying is called a ristra, the Spanish word for string. Using a big needle threaded with a doubled length of heavy-duty carpet thread, I make a big knot in the end then thread through the thickest part of the stem just above each fruit, pushing each one down to the end and turning them different directions. I make a hanging loop in the top end, wrap a little label with type of pepper and the year around the string, and hang them up. The wall between my kitchen and living room has a big cutout area. Aries took a big dowel, slid a bunch of "S" hooks on it, and attached it to the top of the cutout for me to hang my ristras (that's corn up there too). They're both decorative and tasty.

A lot of the dried chiles I grind into powders to use in cooking. I have a coffee grinder that I use only for grinding spices (when I'm finished grinding something, I clean it by grinding some rice into powder, then dumping it out - that absorbs any flavors and oils, and keeps my chili from tasting like curry). When I need some chile powder, I'll take down a ristra, rinse the chiles to remove any dust, and hang it outside to make sure they're completely dry again before grinding. I'll break the chiles apart (wearing gloves), remove stems, the pithy inside ribs and the seeds (saving some for when I want to grow that variety again), and grind just the red skin. I re-use yeast jars to store the different powders - they have a rubber rim inside the lid that seals tight, and the dark glass keeps the flavor and color from fading.

This year, I'm starting extra Jalapeño pepper plants. These short thick peppers are too fleshy to hang and dry - they tend to rot instead. However, they can be preserved by drying in a smoker - then they're called Chipotle peppers. Chipotles, either ground or a whole one removed before serving, add a wonderful smoky heat to winter's bean crockpots or soups. I also use them, plus the big red dried New Mexico chiles and fresh tomatoes, to make enchilada sauce to can in a pressure canner. I have a little bit of the powder left in the jar, and a couple of whole Chipotles left, so it's time to replenish my supply. Later, in the fall when I harvest the Jalapeños, I'll take photos and post directions for making a smoker out of a cardboard box. If you want to grow your own Chipotles, start your Jalapeño plants now.