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.