Friday, October 18, 2013

Speaking of Peppers. . .

A few weeks back I made a very passing mention of having peppers to take care of.  I did get those put up, and, figuring that it was nearly October, and cooler weather, and the fact that peppers like it hot, I assumed that would be the end of harvesting peppers for this year.

Not so.  Apparently my pepper plants are hardier than I thought.  They aren't growing peppers at a high rate of speed, and the bell peppers aren't getting very big, but my garden is still producing peppers.  Enough that I harvested another grocery bag full last weekend, and have been busy again with canning hot peppers, and with freezing the sweet ones.

Today, they are all done, (at least, the ones I picked over the weekend; I really should go out and check the plants again!) so I thought perhaps I would write a post on what to do with the peppers you grow.  Not recipes, but how to stretch them from the garden into the off season.

Through the years, I have had success with bell peppers, jalapenos, hot banana peppers, cayenne peppers, and paprika peppers (yes, the spice paprika is just dried, ground pepper.)  This year I gave pepperoncini a try, since both DH and DS1 like to eat the canned ones.

My first pepper tip is storage.  Sometimes we have an abundance of peppers ready at one time, and we can't eat them all as fresh peppers (or maybe, like this week, I don't have time to can the hot ones right away).  I've found that at times like this, I can store them quite well for a week or so in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.  If you think about it, cold storage is how those peppers get from the farm fields to the grocery store anyway, so why not stick your garden fresh peppers into your fridge to extend their shelf life?

For bell peppers (green bells, red bells, yellow, orange. . . even those that are sweet but not bell shaped like Carmen, which is a red bull's horn variety), I like to take my extras, dice them up, spread the pieces on a cookie sheet (or two or three. . .) and stick them in the freezer overnight.  The next day, they are easily scooped up and poured into a ziploc freezer bag.  Then they go back into the freezer and are used throughout the winter and spring months whenever I have a recipe that calls for diced bell peppers.  Like omelets.  Mmmm.  Or pizza.  Mmmm.  Occasionally I also cut my sweet peppers into strips and freeze those for use in fajitas.

Sometimes I have even sliced jalapenos and froze those, but usually only at the end of the season if I don't have enough to make a big enough batch to justify using the canner, and it's too big of a batch to just use up in recipes over a week's time.

For the hot peppers, or even mild ones I want to pickle (OK, let's face it, DH likes his pickled peppers hot, not mild.  So I guess 'mild' would be the pepperoncini that were this year's successful experiment), they have to be soaked overnight in either salt brine (pepperoncini) or lime water (hot bananas, jalapenos), then rinsed several times and soaked in fresh water before putting in jars, topping with a boiling vinegar and water solution (with salt and garlic), then processed in the canner.

For cayenne and paprika peppers, I slice those thin, and put them in the dehydrator until nice and dry.  Depending on how thinly sliced, it takes (I think, didn't dry any this year), anywhere from 6-12 hours to get them all the way dried.  Once dry, I powder them in the blender.

A word of caution on powdering hot peppers:  wait until all the 'dust' has settled before taking the lid off of the blender.  Even then, don't inhale!  Trust me on this.  Also, do not touch the powder with the tip of your finger, then lick your finger to see if the powder is actually hot.  Yes!  It will actually be hot.  Unless you want to blister your tongue (and possibly the roof of your mouth when your tongue hits it!) do not give in to the temptation to see if you really did create cayenne pepper.  You did.  And it is hot.  Trust me.  This is the voice of experience talking.

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