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Peppers. The unpredictable pepper plant.

Patience is needed.

Simply put, they can be the wallflower of the garden. Slow to germinate, scared of the cold, we start our pepper seeds in February in the germination chamber, move them to heat mats in the heated greenhouse then coddle the seedlings for months before planting them in mid May on landscape fabric and covered with row cover.

They like lots of compost and water early on. And there they sit. With subtle growth and then small white flowers bud into tiny green peppers.

In the case of sweet peppers now we wait. It feels like forever before that dull green flavor & color turns to the brilliant yellows and reds of the Italian frying peppers we are fond of here at Oak Spring.

Carmens turn a gorgeous deep red and Escamillos become a golden to bright yellow. The entire flavor profile changes with color.

So how do we savor the flavor of these summer beauties?

Roast them

For a quick cheat I roast mine under the broiler in the oven until they are nice and as evenly charred as I can get them. I love to roast them on the charcoal grill too. The most important thing I do next is put them in a paper bag until they’re cool. The skins slip off so easily when they steam in a paper bag.

Dehydrate them

There’s more than one way to dry a pepper. #1: leave them on the plants. #2. slice them and throw them in the dehydrator. Really ambitious? Make a rista! Ristas are dried chili peppers commonly seen hanging in the southwest, mostly New Mexico. This is a photo I took in Santa Fe of a beautiful rista display.

Smoke them

I’m not gonna lie. We have an Egg BBQ/Smoker and it scares me. My friend’s do my smoking for me. There I said it. For that reason, I’m teaching myself how to use my smoker this year. Period. That said, I love smoked peppers. Especially smoking cayennes for our smoked Cayenne pepper sauce. We will make Chipotle sauce this year. Chipotle is a smoked hot chili pepper, usually a red jalapeño, used in Mexican cooking.

Pickle them

Canning peppers in the water bath canner is doable when you pickle them. It’s so easy to make a half vinegar half sugar syrup to smother your peppers in. As long as you have lots of vinegar in your solution you can use the water bath canner. Otherwise peppers need to be pressure canned.

 

Let’s take a look at some tips from Hank Shaw and his website hunter*angler*gardener*cook

My main method to preserve peppers is to roast them over an open fire, then preserve them with a little salt, vinegar and oil. Peppers lack natural acid, so need to be pressure-canned if you aren’t using vinegar or salt.

This way of preserving does a number of things. Roasting kills any enzymes in the peppers that might deteriorate them over time, as well as softening and sweetening the peppers — not to mention getting rid of the indigestible skins. I then dredge the peppers in vinegar to up the acid level and give the peppers more tang. After that I salt them liberally to make things even more stable; salt also adds to the flavor. And finally I cover everything in olive oil to keep air out.

Peeling charred skin from a roasted red pepper
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

SOME TIPS:

  • Grill your peppers hard, as in blackened. Every sort of pepper has a skin of a different thickness. Try to do this with thick skinned peppers if you can; a thin skin can be a bear to peel off unless it is good and charred. Some thick skinned peppers are bells, Hatch-style chiles, pimientos, and paprika chiles. Poblanos are pretty easy to roast, and jalapenos are OK, but their skins are pretty thin.
  • Steam the roasted peppers for a long time, in a paper bag. Take your time with this step. Walk away and do something else for a while. You’ll thank me. Nothing quite so fun as to be scalded with nuclear-hot pepper juice when you’re trying to peel them.
  • Don’t wash the peppers. You want all that pepper juice you can collect, and running the peppers under water will rob you of that. This is the secret to really, really good roasted peppers.

 

You can also check out a recent blog post I wrote about the peppers we grow at Oak Spring. We change it up every year but there’s always something for everyone and plenty to preserve!