Thursday, December 8, 2016

Peppers with a Purpose

By Chuck Richards

In late November, I finally committed to the bittersweet task of cleaning up what was the backyard edible garden. Being the Northern Hemisphere’s time to weather the Earth’s 23 degree tilt away from our energy source, my tomato stakes came down, and the remaining plant material went to compost. In the midst of this annual exercise of mind and body, I once again found humor in the absurd amount of hot peppers that I produce annually. By the time I was finished the chore, I had a more than fifty final hot peppers for 2016.

If my wife, our two toddler girls, and I solely ate hot peppers, I would never again have to wait behind that guy at the Giant who uses self-checkout with an overflowing shopping cart when the rest of us behind him have a few things in a small basket. But outside of me, no one in this house eats hot peppers. One can only push so many hot peppers on friends, family, and colleagues before people begin to talk. So, each year, I am committed to finding creative ways to utilize all those hot peppers and, lately, equally committed to being pleasant in the self-checkout line at the grocery store.

After I have made as many salsas as I can dream up, or tried every sandwich or variation of grilled chicken or burger with roasted hot peppers, or even spiced up a tomato sauce; eventually, there are still too many peppers and not enough time. Since they don’t keep forever, I have a few favorite ways to utilize them throughout the winter and all the way into the next growing season.

Crushed Red Pepper

I use my bright red cayenne peppers to make homemade crushed red pepper.  It’s very easy to do and pays long-term dividends with the spice and flavor it can add to many winter meals.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Remove stems, and cut the peppers in half;

2. Spread the peppers across a cookie sheet. Feel free to include some seed too;

3. Bake at 200° F (or less if your oven settings and time allow) for several hours. Use a fan or crack the oven door when you can, as air circulation is important for the process;

4. Crush! When the peppers are fully dried, place in food processor or take a rolling pin or knife to them;

5. Place crushed pepper in a shaker (I just clean out a used shaker and make my own label).

That’s it. It’s that easy. Just make sure they are fully dry, or they are more difficult to crush/dice.

Diced Peppers for Freezing

I use freezer sphere molds…banana, jalapeno, cayenne, serrano, habanero, etc. They are such a simple “add” to any dish throughout the winter when all you have to do is open up one of these molds and stir them in as you begin cooking or thaw and utilize uncooked in many different meals.

Save the Seeds

You can use these seeds for next year’s plants. I’ve been planting for years without buying any seed. Simply separate all the seeds and set on a surface to dry for a few days. Then, put them in a small paper bag, label it, and put it in a plastic storage in the back of the fridge until it is time to plant in the spring!


I think the most important tip is to be careful throughout these processes. I’m often too stubborn to use gloves, but it is a good idea to use some sort of protection from the capsaicin, which is the oily chemical responsible for the "hot" in peppers (genus capsicum)

Capsaicin is difficult to wash/scrub off as it is hydrophobic, and even after you think you are in the clear, you’ll rub your eyes and be instantly and very uncomfortably reminded why you should have been less stubborn.

If you are using the oven to assist your drying process, be sure to either have a window cracked for good circulation, and consider evacuating loved ones and pets prior to oven drying. That capsaicin can begin permeating your living space to the point of irritability. 


Search “OC Spray” on YouTube for a few examples of what a military/law enforcement dose of a capsaicin-based spray does to these poor individuals. Sure, these are extreme examples, but maybe they’ll help you remember these safety tips.

Hopefully this helps you enjoy these healthy and delicious hot peppers year-round!

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