Friday, September 14, 2012

Pepper Season Is Here!

The tomatoes, with the exception of our late planting of Marglobe, are starting to wind down. We will pull all the spent vines this weekend, having already replaced the Bush Big Boy plants with fall lettuces.

Peppers, however, are anything but tired, and seem intent on supplying us with more than we can use for weeks to come. We have several varieties that have given great results this season.

California Wonder
We have been growing this one for years. If we could grow only one pepper, it would be this one. Large, uniform fruits ripen to bright red and are perfect for stuffing, relish or any recipe calling for sweet peppers. From four plants we can pick half a dozen fruits every few days.

Long Sweet Pepper
This old-fashioned type of pepper is easy to grow, versatile in the kitchen and prolific. Two plants are yielding one or two fruits every day. This variety is not as sweet as a bell pepper, but it is more likely to give a good harvest under less than perfect conditions. Often called a “frying” pepper, it stands up well to either pan frying or roasting.

Fish Pepper
If you like heat, you always want to include a small hot pepper variety in the garden. This one, originally from Thailand, came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The variegated foliage is decorative, and the fruits start out green-and-white striped, ripening through yellow to orange-red. They are quite hot and ideal for spicing up relish, for red pepper vinegar (see below) or for garnishing Thai or Southwestern dishes.

Ashe County Pimento
This one looks like a flattened bell pepper, with thick, deep red flesh when ripe. It is the ideal pickling pepper, and can be used at any stage of ripeness. We will grow this one again next year, just for making relish. Seed also came from Southern Exposure.

Cayenne
This is the standard, long, red, hot-as-hell pepper that is dried and ground to produce the familiar powdered heat. I find they dry perfectly spread out on a tray at room temperature. When they are leathery, transfer them to a jar and place a couple of silica gel packets in with them to prevent mold. They will keep for a year.

Here is a recipe for red pepper vinegar. It can be made with any variety of hot pepper you happen to have. When working with hot peppers, always take care not to get the juice in your eyes. Wear plastic gloves, or simply avoid touching your face until you have washed your hands with plenty of hot, soapy water.

This recipe can be easily multiplied if you have a bumper crop of hot peppers.

Red Pepper Vinegar
Weigh out four ounces of whole, unblemished hot peppers. Wash them and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Cut a small slit near the stem end of each pepper with a paring knife. This allows the liquid to enter the pepper and keeps them from floating in the jar. Place the peppers in a clean, sterilized, canning jar. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup of white vinegar and 1-½ teaspoons of pickling salt to a boil. Carefully pour the steaming-hot  vinegar mixture over the peppers. Place a canning lid on the jar and allow to cool. Store in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks to extract the flavor. Refrigerate after opening.

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