Sweet bells, garden salsa, jalapenos, habaneros — nothing brightens the fall garden more than those lustrous peppers dangling from sturdy branches of the once-tiny pepper plants we planted in the spring.
And what a bounty this year, hey. Roxie has been hauling in bags full of chiles these last few weeks, which is great on the one hand. It marks another victory over the food comglomos and the questionable produce they sell to the supermarkets.
But what to do with all of that fruit, other than shove the lot in freezer bags, perhaps never to be seen again? Or at least not until you defrost the icebox and wonder why in the heck you bothered growing all those peppers in the first place.
Two things we suggest. With bell peppers, first remove the seeds, stems and membranes. Wash and let dry.
Then chop them into chunks or slice them into narrow, finger-like pieces, both of which can be incorporated into many a cold-weather meal: creoles, gumbo, stews, chicken Cacciatore, etc. Whole frozen peppers will do, too. It’s just a pain to thaw and chop, or try to chop rock-hard ice peppers when you’re fixing dinner.
Do the chopping ahead of time and you’re more likely to put frozen sweet peppers to use.
Same routine for jalapenos, though in addition to slicing them up (I usually leave the seeds in hot peppers), I’ve also been known to chop fresh jalapenos in a food processor. Freeze the mush in bags or ice cube trays.
Habaneros — I froze them whole the one and only time I grew them. This was a couple, three years ago. One plant provided us enough habaneros to last us a decade, I’d imagine.
More problematic, though, are the slender salsa peppers that come in bunches this time of year. After all, how much salsa can a person make?
Something we’re focusing on this year are hot sauces. We experimented with one type last year, but in 2010 we are up to three, thanks to a book we’ve had on our shelves since probably the year it was published, 1986. Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty is loaded with great recipes.
The two recipes we’re using for peppers this year are Green-Fire Pepper Sauce and Dr. Kitchener’s Hot Stuff.
How did I get three sauces out of only two recipes? Simple. I improvised.
Green-Fire Pepper Sauces (bottle on the left in photo) calls for chopping 9 to 12 hot peppers of any shape (minus the stems). Scoop up the pile (with rubber gloves, preferably) and toss the chopped chiles in a jar and fill it with 3 cups of white vinegar. Close the jar with an enamel-lined canning lid (or another lid lined with plastic wrap) and let sit for two weeks or as long as 3 months.
When you’re tired of looking at the mixture, strain the liquid “through a finely meshed sieve, pressing lightly on the debris of the peppers to extract all possible flavor.”
Well, I did exactly what the recipe said, and it produces a nice, thin hot sauce that you can squirt on whatever tickles your taste buds.
But we still had more peppers, so I made another batch. Except instead of straining the liquid, I dumped vinegar and peppers both into a blender. That produced a thicker, hotter sauce. It was enough to fill that one liter gin bottle in the center of the photo.
But guess what. I had more peppers taking up space in the fridge. So I made some Dr. Kitchener’s Hot Stuff. This was a little more expensive proposition, as it required a trip to the liquor store. (Lucky us, more bottles that will eventually be empty and available to store even more hot sauce!)
The recipe: roughly chop one fourth to one third of a pound of chopped hot peppers, throw in blender or food procesor at slow speed and gradually add a half cup of sherry, a half cup of brandy and a half cup of lime juice. Sprinkle in a half teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper, if you’d like. Though I don’t see why you’d need it, unless you were processing mild peppers.
Then pour the pureed mixture into a jar, cover the top with cheesecloth (I used a rubber band to keep it in place) and wait two to three weeks. Slosh it around every so often while you’re waiting so as to let the flavors mingle.
Of the three, this one is the one most likely to scald your tonsils.
As you can see, we still have plenty of peppers left, but we’re pretty sure we have enough hot sauce to last us awhile.
So much, in fact, that if you’re on our Christmas list, don’t be surprised if you find cute little bottles of hot pepper sauce in the CARE package we send you this December.
And know that every blasted one of them was made with care and love, dammit.
Posted by: Mike