Hot Stuff

Back in June, my husband & I planted a modest veggie garden, featuring zucchini, 3 types of tomatoes and 10 different kinds of peppers. The abundant zucchini are long gone, but our tomatoes and peppers are still growing and if we lived further south we’d likely enjoy the fruits of our labor for months to come. But we live in Maine. Our garden is getting less sun with each passing day, and the weather has taken a decidedly cooler turn at night with lows dropping into the 30s and 40s. In order to preserve as much of our bounty as possible, we’re picking it all.

The greatest thing about chili peppers is the tremendous dimension they add to food, without upping the sodium ante. But as much as I love that wonderful KICK, there are only so many I can eat in a day. The solution? FREEZE & DRY THEM! To freeze peppers, simply secure in a zip-top plastic bag or airtight container, pop into the freezer, and POOF! Hot peppers for months to come. I’ve done this with success for years, keeping peppers frozen for as many as 12 months, without sacrificing flavor or fire (though the flesh may flag).

This year we’re trying something different. All of the hot peppers are being dried. Thin skins, like in this chili pepper, air dry easily without any intervention. This one has been resting on the kitchen counter for several weeks.

If you have a lot of space, you can simply lay the peppers flat and leave them to it. But if space is at a premium, I suggest stringing them together and hanging your peppers to dry. I strung together a number of bunches, using two techniques. A few bunches were simply tied together at the top with fishing line (like a bunch of bananas);

the remainder were stitched.

For the stitched bunches, I threaded the fishing line through a regular sewing needle, then pushed the needle through the top of each pepper. For simplicity, I made a loop at the “top” end of the strand before getting started. And don’t forget to securely knot the strand at the bottom – or risk losing your prize!

The drying technique seems especially suited to our colonial kitchen, and I LOVE the effect of the various shapes, sizes and colors playing off one another. All winter long, the pepper seeds will add spicy flavor to a host of dishes. And their visual appeal will provide constant reminder of last summer’s bounty, and the promise of summer to come. Now THAT’S eye candy!

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