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Seriously. This just makes me happy.

It’s January, and my mail box is groaning with the weight of seed catalogs. Normally, I’ve inventoried my seeds by now and have put in an order (Fedco, Johnny’s and Seed Savers Exchange are my go-to seed sources). But this year I’ve been catching up on bookkeeping instead. Oh the joys of owning a small business.

But as I flip through the catalogs, I almost always turn to the pepper pages first. You see, I love peppers. All kinds of peppers. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know this. At least 17 of the recipes listed on the recipe tab of this blog contain peppers, NOT including the spice mixes. Was there ever one vegetable that was so versatile to the homestead? That has SO many uses, not to mention being a nutritional powerhouse (hello vitamin A, C, B6, E and Folate? My top two things to grow are tomatoes and peppers, but if I had to pick only one, it would be peppers.

People who avoid all spicy foods (in peppers, the heat comes from a chemical compound called capsaicin) may never realize how varied peppers can be, not only in terms of heat but also flavor. Jalapenos are kind of middle of the road in terms of scoville units, so technically are not that hot, but I find the heat all at the front of the mouth and lips, where I tend to REALLY notice it. Eating them fresh out of hand is not something I tend to do for this reason. Whereas the heat of other peppers might be more mid palette or back in the throat. The heat might be quick to develop or slowly building, and might be a quick flash in the mouth or linger for a LONG time. There can be subtle overtones of fruity, earthy, bitter, smokey, grassy, nutty, citrus; even chocolate or tobacco. I’ve never been interested in the triple X insanely hot peppers or sauce. All that does is blow your palette and perhaps give you a few more testosterone points. Meh. We’re in it for the flavor. Nice overview of flavors and different species of peppers here.

We save a lot of our own seed. Peppers are mostly self crossing – though the hot ones will sometimes outcross – so best to collect from the middle of the patch on those. I once had an interesting jalapeno/cayenne cross that took me a while to identify. I look for a few new varieties to try each year.

Peppers need warmth to germinate (heat mat or a warm room) and should be started about the same time you start your tomatoes – around 8 weeks before your last frost date. Germination can be really sporadic if the temperature is off, and while I know everyone loves Baker Creek Seed, I had across the board terrible germination from their pepper seed last year (seven varieties – some grown side by side with the same variety from a different source, all less than 50% germination) – so I don’t put huge trust in their germination numbers. I normally get at least 75% germination.

We love ripe bell and frying peppers fresh, or diced and then frozen for use year round. We use them in dishes from omelets and other egg dishes to soups and stews to pasta to stir fries. And at least once a year, I take the largest most beautiful bells from the garden and make stuffed peppers.

We also roast sweet peppers on the grill, and then freeze for use in place of jarred “roasted red peppers” in everything from red pepper soup to hummus to romesco sauce . (You can’t safely home can roasted peppers without adding a lot of vinegar – which isn’t the flavor I’m looking for for this particular product). I freeze roasted sweet peppers in 15 oz packs specifically for making this Spanish Chilindron stew with our home grown rabbit. It’s our “have guests for dinner and introduce them to our farm” meal! SO good.

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Green “Hatch” chilies, roasting on the grill.

I love growing the Italian Frying Peppers (Marconi Red and Golden Treasure are two varieties – there are many more) because they don’t tend to get sunburned the way the bells do. Though I love growing Bull Nose bells, which was supposedly grown by Thomas Jefferson. It’s a nice sized pepper with thick walls, and well, I just love the history.

When it comes to hot peppers we grow:

  • New Mexico Green – We fell in love with the classic New Mexico green chilies when we lived in the four corners region. (Similar to Anaheim or California peppers). I grow NuMex Joe Parker and NuMex Big Jim – varieties bred by New Mexico State University specifically for the Hatch New Mexico green chili market. In late summer in Durango, you could buy boxes of chilies, shipped up from Hatch, at the local WalMart, and they would roast them out front, on the spot, and dump them into a large black plastic trash bag to steam on the ride home. Once you’ve had a really good green chili stew, its hard to give it up. These chilies aren’t super hot. Considerably less heat than the ubiquitous jalapeno. They just have excellent flavor. We roast and freeze them in 4 oz (for the Chili Relleño Casserole recipe, found under my “recipes” tab) and 1 lb packs.

    We also let a good portion of these get red ripe, and then dry them in the dehydrator to make making Red Chili Sauce (also under the “recipes” tab) and to add to various spice mixes, including red pepper flakes, which get sprinkled on lots of things.

    About half the crop goes into home canned salsa, either the standard tomato variety or one I make with tomatillos. I try to can 40 to 50 jars of salsa a year…almost enough to eat one pint per week.

  • Poblano (when dried – called Ancho). Fresh they are great in a simple pan fried chile relleno. Dried, they go into all kinds of spice mixes, most especially chili powder. Poblanos have some heat, for sure, but its a GOOD heat.
  • Cayenne – dried for home ground “red pepper” powder. Plants are prolific, and often one of the first to germinate. I have a variety that is larger than the typical “long narrow” variety that seems to be everywhere. They came from Seeds of Change, which no longer carries them. I’ve just saved seed from them for years.
  • Jalapeno – I’m not one to eat this pepper out of hand, as some are, but we grow a lot to can. We pickle them green (or red if I have a lot on hand) and my husband loves them on pizza, his eggs, and whenever he wants a hot spicy tangy punch to his meals. (Pickled peppers is about one of the easiest things to home can – especially if you have a food processor to do all the slicing).

    We also make “Candied Jalapenos” aka “Cowboy Candy”, which are essentially pickled jalapenos with a lot more sugar. These make great Christmas gifts, and are utterly addicting when served with cream cheese on crackers as a snack or appetizer. This recipe from Food With Family will get you started, but I recommend leaving out the typical “relish” spices used in that recipe – as I think its the wrong direction to go. (You can leave out the spices, or substitute them, without changing the safety of the recipe). A simple recipe for jalapeno jelly is also occasionally on the agenda, but once we discovered the candied jalapenos we kind of left the jelly behind.

    We also smoke ripe jalapenos and then dry them for our own home grown chipotle peppers. On my list of things to do is make chipotle hot sauce (a family favorite) from them, and try my hand at homemade chipotle in adobo sauce as well. Perhaps a future blog post.

    A few end up in salsa as well, though we mostly use New Mexico style for that.

  • Paprika peppers – You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that paprika is actually a specific dried ground chili. I was never a fan of paprika in my 20’s. I had an ancient tin of the stuff (who doesn’t) that rarely made an appearance in recipes and languished in the cupboard, tasting like dust. Then I tried growing, drying and grinding my own paprika. And now I actively seek out recipes with lots of paprika in it. There is NO comparison between store bought and home grown. We also smoke and then dry them for our own smoked paprika. The dried peppers are stored whole until needed, which helps them keep their flavor for a much longer time. I’m currently growing Boldog Hungarian Spice Paprika peppers from Fedco. They have no real heat to them. Just a wonderful flavor.

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    This year’s Padron Hot Sauce

  • Serrano – This classic small Latin pepper can also be used in many Indian or Chinese dishes, where peppers are used dried, whole, in the dish, or crushed. I dry a handful of ripe ones every year for this purpose. The rest go into Awesome Sauce – our annual mixed pepper hot sauce, or into a simple garlic-chili sauce (see recipe tab) that we use as a condiment in stir fries and other Asian dishes year round.
  • Habanero – just the name of this pepper strikes fear into the hearts of those with tender palettes. When diluted enough with other ingredients. often fruity ones, it actually makes a wonderful hot sauce. I also dry ripe ones for use in my Apricot-Habanero jam that I sell. These peppers are slow to germinate and slow to ripen for me. Thankfully, I have friends who share their extras.
  • Padron – these Spanish peppers are mild when small and green (around 1 1/2 inches) but get quite hot when fully grown and ripe. Also called roulette peppers, because about 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 turn out to be hot rather than sweet, even when picked green. (I say the name comes from “pardon me for burning your face off”). Well known as a tapas (bar snack) in Spain (and trendy US restaurants) when grilled with oil and tossed with sea salt. Shiro is a similar variety from Japan, often served the same way (grilled/salted). I have not compared the two. Last year I made both a fermented hot sauce and a straight forward hot sauce out of ripe padrons because I waited too long to pick them.
  • Aleppo – I originally bought some dried Aleppo pepper flake from Penzeys Spices – when I was able to visit one of their stores, and fell in love with the scent of this lovely pepper. This pepper, not surprisingly, comes from the Aleppo region of Syria. Given the many years civil war in that country, its been very difficult to find seed for this pepper (some Seed Saver’s members have some). I was able to locate some last year, and grew it out. I haven’t gotten around to turning it into flakes yet. I’d like to get to the point where I can offer it for sale at market. They had me at “cumin like undertones“.

As mentioned above, we also make our own “awesome” hot sauce (directions under recipe tab). It’s different every year, but always good. So at the end of the season, just before our first freeze, anything left that is at least partially ripe goes into that. This year I tried my hand at doing a fermented hot sauce as well. My “room temperature” was a little on the warm side, so I had a lot of problems with kahm yeast, which is harmless but unsightly. I strained and bottled it, and we’ve been enjoying it. Next year I’ll try again, hopefully in a slightly cooler location.

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Chipotle Salt

Spice mixes include straight cayenne and paprika peppers, of course, along with smoked paprika, chipotle powder, chipotle salt, hand mixed chili powder, Cajun/blackened spice mix and taco seasoning.

Remember, a green pepper is just an unripe pepper. There is no “green bell pepper” variety.  Most of the time, in my humble opinion, green sweet peppers are not worth eating. Plus, ripe peppers are better nutritionally, and sweeter. So let them get ripe (red, yellow, orange, purple, chocolate brown, even white) before you pick them – or at least taste them both ways and see which you prefer.

What peppers are YOU growing this year.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2018, where we’re miles away from getting our seed order in, but we’re almost done with our bookkeeping for 2017.