This post is not so much about how to grow your own chillies, but what to do with your bountiful harvest of chillies!
If you have more chillies from your plants than you know what to do with, there are essentially three ways of processing them for use later in the UK where leaving them to dry in the sun all day is not really an option! These are drying, pickling or freezing them.
The first method of drying peppers is in the oven. If your oven is electric, preheat to the lowest setting. The pilot light on a gas oven is sometimes enough, use an oven thermometer to check the temperature; it should be around 150 – 200 degrees.
Slice your peppers in half and remove the seeds, or if you prefer you can cut them into thin rings. Spread the chilli peppers evenly over baking trays.
Allow the chilli peppers to dry all day or overnight in the warm oven. You may wish to turn them once during the drying time, but this is not necessary.
Another old-fashioned method is to hang the chillies to dry. If you have a screened in porch or other area where there is plenty of airflow, this method works well. You do not have to seed the chillies for this method of drying.
You will need a large eyed needle, and either heavy thread or fishing line. Begin by threading your needle with a long length of thread or fishing line. At the other end, tie a small wooden dowel or stick to keep the bottom pepper from falling off. Thread the line through the centre of each chilli, stacking one on top of the other in a rotating manner.
When the line is full, hang in a well ventilated area and allow nature to take its course. This method may take three weeks to a month for the chillies to dry completely.
The last way of drying chillies is in a dehydrator. Dehydrators can be purchased with or without a fan, and while the ones with a fan are a bit more expensive, they do their magic faster than those without. Prepare your chillies as you would for the oven method. You can leave the seeds in or remove them if you wish. Lay the prepared chillies evenly on the trays of your dehydrator and turn the machine on. Chillies generally take 8 – 10 hours to dry in a dehydrator with a fan or 10 – 12 in one without.
Did you know that if recipe calls for a chilli pepper and you can’t get hold of a locally-grown fresh chilli, you can always use pickled chillies. However be aware that the heat of the chillies is reduced slightly through the pickling process so you may need to use a little more than you would a fresh chilli.
Here is a ‘recipe’ to get you started. However, sterilize any jars and jar lids before using. Boil them on the stove for a half hour, or throw them in the dishwasher for a cycle or two.
600g / 1lb 5oz medium green or red chillies
15 black peppercorns
5 bay leaves
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
5 teaspoons salt
6 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
1 litre / 1 3/4 pints white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
Carefully score from the stalk end to the tip on one side only and remove the seeds (use the handle of a teaspoon for this. Pour boiling water over the chillies, let them sit for 5 minutes, then drain. This will get rid of most of the seeds left behind.
Next put your black peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander, chillies and salt into a large jar or other airtight container.
Put the sugar and the vinegar into a pan and heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. When this is quite hot, but not boiling, pour it into the jar with the chillies.
Allow it to cool down and then put the lid on, put into the fridge and leave for a minimum of 2 weeks before using. They will keep in the fridge for at least 4 months.
To freeze chillies whole, spread them out on a baking tray so they are not touching, freeze and pop into a sealed bag or container. This way they do not clump together.
Frozen chillies, however, do not always keep their shape or texture well with freezing so you may prefer to process them first. Remove the stalks and the seeds if you like (seeds can go a bit brown on freezing but this will do no harm) and freeze in a sealed bag. You can them smash the bag with a rolling pin and use as required.
Alternatively, pack the chopped chillies into an ice cube tray, then empty chilli cubes into a sealed bag to store to make easily measured portions. Keep the ice tray just for your chillies though!