Monday, August 30, 2010

Some Pepper in my Pie

I'm finally arriving at the magical place where I no longer have bushels of stuff laying around that need prompt attention. What a nice feeling to know that the shelves are full, and anything I put up from here on out is just icing on the cake.

Many years ago, a man was giving our family a tour of his vegetable garden. He pointed out some hot peppers he was growing and said "Those right there are so hot you can't even eat them." I quietly asked my mother why then you would bother to grow them? We both had a chuckle and found it quite funny that this man was growing something that he did not want to eat. That was twenty-five years ago, when I could not have dreamed that I would one day have a garden with a hot pepper row. When did hot peppers become so popular? Many wives with gardens seem to grudgingly put aside some small space to grow hot peppers to satiate their husband's tastes for them. "I don't really care for them, but..." said one friend, while nodding towards the little trees of jalapenos.

Now I am not much of a heat-lover myself when it comes to food. I like to actually taste the food and not worry about my mouth being on fire. But in the past few years I have come to enjoy growing a variety of peppers that have found a place in our pantry. These are just a few I have tried:

Serrano: Wonderful in salsa and Mexican dishes. High producers, so get ready to have plans for them in advance. I water-bath can them whole in a vinegar based liquid and the Mister eats them in his salad. I also process them the same way diced for recipes. These are so versatile.

Jalapeno: Another versatile pepper with high yields. Diced or stuffed, it's easy to find creative ways to use these. These come in varieties with different heat levels. I grew a mild variety last year that even I could eat. Our favorite way to eat these is to roast them in the oven, peel off the skins, and then can for future nacho toppings. Roasting any hot pepper really brings out the flavor. Jalapenos are also a key ingredient in my hot pepper butter, which is a sandwich spread.

Cayenne: When a recipe calls for red pepper, that ingredient is simply a pepper such as these dried out and ground to a powder. So when I grew these one year, that is exactly what I did with them. With a needle and thread, I strung them through the stems and hung them in a dark, dry place. Months later, I pulled off the stems and took out the seeds before grinding them up.

Ancho: This is the first year I've grown anchos. I have a chili recipe that calls for ancho chili powder, but once I saw the price of it in the store I passed! So I plan to dry these and grind my own ancho powder. My first string is now drying.

Hungarian Wax: Sometimes called Hot Banana Peppers. These were a surprise plant that I didn't grow on purpose. I'm canning these whole to be sliced up for sandwiches, or in anything that can use some medium level spice.

Habanero: Another surprise pepper, and since my plant has yielded only a few, I do not yet have much experience with them. But these are supposedly very hot, so maybe that's a good thing.

Some tips in working with hot peppers:
  • Always wear gloves when working with hot peppers. Your hands will burn for days if you don't.
  • Don't bother to freeze hot peppers. You can freeze them, but they won't retain much taste nor any of their heat.
  • They make lovely jar decorations in your kitchen. That is the only reason you need to can them.

Finally, my favorite pepper of the season isn't hot at all. I love when the sweet green bell peppers turn red and become abundant in late summer. This gives me a chance to make my favorite roasted red peppers in vinegar and olive oil. With slices of fresh garlic for seasoning, these are something I really look forward to eating on slices of warm bread in the winter. It's a bit of a time intensive project, involving roasting and peeling peppers, so I won't post the recipe here but will be happy to share if you e-mail me.

I would love to hear some more ideas for using peppers, and also what varieties of peppers my readers love to grow?


  1. We love hot peppers in a lot of things and one of our favorite appetizers is stuffed Jalapenos

  2. I LOVE to stuff ancho chilies with almost anything - black beans; cheese; Mexican rice; shredded roasted chicken, beef or pork; or any combination of the above, with seasonings of fresh salsa, scallions, and cilantro. Then you bake them.

    You can stuff and bake them just the way they are when picked from the plant (the easiest way), or remove the skin and seeds first (I prefer them this way), by charring them under a broiler, turning them until they are beginning to blacken on all sides. Then put them in a glass bowl, covering the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let them sit for 15 minutes, then the skins can be remove easily. Cut a long slit lengthwise down one side, and use kitchen scissors to cut the seeds and strings out, leaving the stem intact. They are ready for stuffing with your choice of ingredients. You can close the stuffed chilies with toothpicks, or just lay them in a baking dish seam side down, if you don't care if they leak out.

    They are delicious any way you stuff them. I never met a stuffed ancho I didn't like.

    Ancho chilies are also great sauteed and added to a cheddar cheese soup. Or you can slice and saute them with sliced onions and Bell peppers for adding to fajitas.

    Dried ancho chili powder is great in a pot of chili or for using in Mexican/Southwest-style spice rubs on any kind of meat, fish, poultry, breakfast egg dishes, etc.

    And of course, you can bake any of the above-listed items in hollowed out Bell peppers, too. I especially love home-cooked black beans baked in Bell peppers with the addition of lots of jalapeno Jack cheese. I serve them on a bed of Mexican rice for a delicious vegetarian dinner.

    I'd love to see your recipe for the jalapeno butter for sandwiches. It sounds like something my family would love.

    Your canned peppers look beautiful!

  3. We grow a variety called salsa pepper. We've found these to have about the right amount of "hot". I usually make pepper poppers with them, and sometimes I can them in rings for pizza etc. we grow the bell peppers too, and I especially like the colored ones. When I use them I think about all the money I'm saving, because they are so-o-o expensive! And I am using them tonight in fajitas, and also in my rice.

  4. Love this post! My husband and I eat all sorts of peppers and really enjoy them. I have to say your jars are beautiful! Have a great week!

  5. "Now I am not much of a heat-lover myself when it comes to food. I like to actually taste the food and not worry about my mouth being on fire."-- my sentiments exactly. Must be the "plain" background. But you are moving beyond that... good for you. I'll grow my herbs and be happy.

  6. I'm actually the one in our family who like the hot peppers. One year I got a bunch of free pepper and tomato plants from a local green house. The tomatoes were awful leggy, but I planted them deep, stuck all the plants in an unused area of my very large garden (at that time) and just waited.

    I was teaching school at the time, so any extra produce I had went to school for my fellow teachers, many of whom did not take the time to garden.

    Well, don't you know those pepper plants were just covered with peppers... little lantern shaped things. I didn't even try any yet, but one morning went out and harvested all of them just before frost... kept a few and took the rest to school. One of my "macho boy" students saw them sitting in my room and said, "I can eat those whole" and he did. He went home sick.

    I later found out they were Habanero peppers which are some of the hottest I have ever had. A little went a VERY long way. At Christmas time that year the mother of this boy gave me a set of hot pads with red hot peppers on them. *smile* I still have them.

    I still like hot peppers and use them in my curried chicken, but my husband goes outside while I'm cooking it... it actually makes your eyes burn when it is cooking, but not that hot when you eat it. I guess the cooking takes some of the fire out.

    Nothing better that some chicken curry over rice. Makes me hungry right now just thinking about it.

  7. I learned to like banana peppers on sandwiches ~ the ones at Subway kind of taste like a cross between a pepper and a pickle. YUM. That was a fun pepper tutorial and I don't think I knew about most of that! I have to admit, I think I could eat jalapenos on anything - nachos, pizza, burgers, you name it. And my favorite roast is one that's cooked in pepperoncinis and their juice. What a great post this was for me ~ :D

  8. Wow, so many great ideas here! Thanks everyone!

    Mrs. Doug- I love your story about the boy eating the habaneros!

    BAT Mom- We like stuffed poblano peppers once in a while, but it had not occurred to me to do that with anchos. I am sure the Mister would love it.

    Twila- I refuse to buy bell peppers. They are so easy to grow and I freeze a year's supply each summer because they are so handy for so many things. Yes, they ARE expensive!

    Beth- My husband likes those pickled banana peppers too, and that is what I suspect Subway's peppers are, hot peppers that are sliced and pickled.

  9. The farther south, the spicier the food. Down where I live, we're known for liberal use of cayenne. Do hot peppers cool you off?

  10. I also freeze bell peppers (sometimes I mix in a little medium or hot peppers) with onions for fajitas. I really like the convenience of having them all already in strips and they seems to freeze nicely. I haven't tried freezing hot peppers by themselves.

    My boys and I also like the banana peppers or pepperoncini pickled, I want to try and do them myself this year.

  11. Hello Monica,

    I thank you for stopping by my blog today...

    You're roasted redpeppers... reminded me. I've been meaning to try that again - this year. I did it one time but only put them in Olive Oil. Uhmmm, never thought of using vinegar. Love have frozen ones on hand, too.

    My hubby would like a meal of stuffed green peppers, one of these evenings and would eat anything hotter then hot. It must be a guy thing.

  12. We used hot pepper more in 3rd world countries where the diet may be bland. The Haitains could spice up a bland roasted breadfruit with one little pepper that packed a lot of HEAT!

  13. I always make hot sauce out of them!


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