One of our most successful garden crops happens to be -- you guessed it - hot peppers. In general, insects stay clear of hot pepper plants. Most types of pepper plants are easy to grow and will keep you busy picking them until the first hard frost, at the end of the summer growing season.
Prepare for a Bumper Crop
You can't Give 'em Away!
By the end of the growing season, hot peppers can be very prolific. Have you ever tried giving away extra hot peppers? Then, you may already have experienced how most people may give you a wide-eyed, blank stare, as they politely try to say, "No, thank you." When it comes to growing hot peppers, you can end up with many more than you know what to do with. What in the world can you do with excess hot peppers?
| Hot Pepper Uses|
Hot peppers add nutrition and bring out regional flavors in recipes throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, Indonesia, India, South America, and in the Southern United States. Curry blends, Rogan Josh, Tandoori, and Vindaloo seasonings feature ground peppers.
Maximize your Harvest
Over the years we have learned how to maximize our hot pepper harvest. We used to reach a saturation point near the end of the summer, when we would just let them fall to the ground and go to waste. Now we pick and utilize every pepper. Depending on the hardiness zone where you live, you may want to consider planting favorite pepper plants, that require a long growing season, in pots and bring them indoors when fall temperatures become a threat.
TooHot for You?
Not a Problem
Foods seasoned with hot peppers do not have to taste too hot and spicy. Adding just a pinch of ground red pepper enhances the other ingredient flavors, while adding just the right amount of heat without setting your mouth on fire.
To control the piquancy in your homemade, garden spice blends, simply use more or fewer hot peppers. If you don't want your spice blend too hot, add more dried sweet peppers. By adding sweet peppers you can tone down the heat of the spice blend to either mild or medium.
If you prefer to avoid the heat altogether, sweet or smoked Paprika (C. Annuums), Tandoori and/or Sweet Curries are for you.
Ground Pepper Recipes
Obvious recipes using hot peppers include hot sauce, pickled peppers, spice rubs, oils, vinegars and hot pepper jelly. Chopping them up fresh for seasoning recipes may be the easiest thing to do, but you can only use so many.
To avoid spoilage of your extra peppers, one easy solution is to simply dry and grind them for use in dried seasonings and rubs. Dried peppers and blends also make useful garden gifts when packaged in decorative spice jars.
These are what I like to call 'free-style' recipes, meaning that there is no need to follow exact measurements of the ingredients suggested. Dry and grind up whatever your garden harvest has provided and make the blends to your liking. It helps to keep a record of your recipe creations for future reference.
Spice blends can be made in many different variations and ingredient combinations. For added flavor try smoking the peppers, or if you want to freeze peppers - roast them first.
| Chili Pepper Spices and Blends|
Crushed Red Pepper
Ground Red Pepper
Hot Chili Powder
| Sweet Curry Powder|
Hot Curry Powder
*First, the peppers must be completely dried.
Drying can be done in various ways: smoking; dehydrators; in the oven for a long period of time on low heat; hanging on ristras; or by laying the peppers out on plates or sheet pans to air dry. To speed up air drying on plates and to avoid mold formation inside the peppers, use culinary shears and cut the peppers in half. You may want to wear plastic gloves when handling hot peppers.
Ground pepper and powders: Once the peppers are dried, cut off the tough stem tips. Then grind the peppers to a fine powder using a morter and pestle, spice or coffee grinder - seeds and all.
Crushed red pepper: Shake out the seeds before grinding. Grind just enough to break the pepper skins into flakes and not a powder. Recombine the flakes with the seeds.
Spice blends: Mix the ground pepper with other dried herbs and spices to your desired blend.
Seeds: Non-hybrid, heirloom seeds can be collected prior to grinding for trading or for your next years planting. Natural, air dried peppers are best for seed collecting.
We have two small coffee grinders, one for coffee and one we keep just for spices. A morter and pestle works too for small batches. The color of your chili powder will vary depending on the colors of your dried peppers. Green, orange and red dried peppers make for a beautiful blend.
For best retention of flavor and nutrients, be sure to store dried pepper powder or dried chili powder blends in airtight spice jars in a cool, dark cabinet. Dried spices are best used within a few years.
Hot Pepper Cultivars
Many of our favorite hot peppers have come from seeds traded among friends. Often we don't even know the cultivars of what we are growing. Some hot peppers have thick skins, and some have thin skins. Thicker skinned peppers like Jalapeno's are better for pickling, stuffing, smoking, roasting or using fresh in salsa's etc. Thinner skinned peppers are best for drying. As you experiment with growing different kinds, you will discover your favorites.
There are literally thousands of pepper varieties in the Capsicum genus, some more suitable for drying than others. "I use Cascabel, Chile DeArbol, Negro Chile, California Chile, New Mexico Chile, Pasilla, Guajillo, Japones and Puya as a base for a lot of my rubs and powders," says Dave's Garden member 'Smokemaster' - an avid pepper grower of North Hills, CA, who smokes dry most of the peppers he grows. His collection features over 400 varieties, grown mostly in pots.
The species "C. Frutescens are good peppers for a short burst of heat with good flavor," according to 'Smokemaster'. He also recommends Purira and the famous Tabasco pepper. "A lot of C. baccatums make good powders too: Aji Limon, Aji Santa Cruz, Aji Colorado, Aji Benito, Queen Laurie, Aji Amarillo and others."
My personal favorites include: Ornamental peppers - Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl', with its chocolate foliage and ½-inch round plum colored fruits that ripen to red; and Capsicum annuum 'Fluorescent Purple'. Other favorites include: heirloom hot pepper - Capsicum annuum 'Bulgarian Carrot'; Pequin - a bead-like, small, hot pepper also known as Chiltepin (Capisicum annum var. aviculare 'bird pepper'); slim red cayenne peppers; Thai peppers, and Kung Pao hybrid peppers. All have thin walls for easy drying. In garden catalog descriptions, look for wording like, "suitable for drying," or "great for ristras."
Heap on raw or cooked chili peppers to your recipes; capsicum helps control hunger and increases metabolism. Peppers are loaded with beneficial antioxidants too. Calculated from USDA nutrient values, one hot chili pepper (45g) is an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of Vitamin B6.
Nutrition Analysis: Serving Size: One hot chili pepper (45g); Calories: 18; total Dietary Fiber: 0.7g (3%DV); Iron: .46mg (3%DV); Potassium: 145mg (4%DV); Manganese .08mg (4%DV); Vitamin C: 65mg (108%DV); Thiamin: .03mg (2%DV); Riboflavin: .04mg (2%DV); Vitamin B6: .23mg (11%DV); Folate: 10mcg (3%DV); Vitamin A: 428IU (9%DV); Vitamin K: 6.3mcg (8%DV)
Percent Daily Values (%DVs) are based on a caloric intake of 2,000 calories for adults and children age 4 or older
Credits: Basket full of Chilli Padi displayed in a Singapore supermarket public domain photograph by David, courtesy of Wikipedia. All other photographs shown Copyright ©2010 Wind. All rights reserved. Nutrition Analysis calculated by Diana Wind.
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