Did you pick all of those peppers last week? I did. The lows were dipping a bit too much for my comfort so I picked everything big enough to use.
Now I have a refrigerator full of peppers.
The easiest way to preserve them is to freeze them. You can freeze them whole, but I like to take the seeds and membrane out first, so I slice mine in half, then remove the seeds.
The next step can be done a couple of different ways. The first few years I froze peppers, they were bigger, like Poblanos, so I would just freeze two in each shrink wrap bag. But as I started freezing smaller peppers like Seranos and Jalapeño varieties, this no longer seemed like the best method. It took quite a while and used a lot of bags. So I began laying the peppers out on a cookie sheet, careful not to let them touch, then sliding that into the freezer until they were good and solid. Then I put the peppers into a freezer bag and remove them as I need them for meals.
Another method is to dry the peppers. With this method you definitely want to slice them in half, or smaller, so they dry thoroughly. Fill your trays and let them dry at about 130 degrees for 12 hours in your dehydrator. They can then be stored in baggies or jars until needed. As you use them, crush the peppers with a mortar and pestel then sprinkle them as seasoning on dishes or mix them into a recipe.
To add a little more flavor, it is fun to smoke the peppers. I like trying a variety of wood smokes, but a favorite is probably Apple wood. Let them smoke for one and a half hours at 250 degrees, then remove them and put on the next batch. Once again, lay them on a tray with a little space between each. Once you bring them in you will still need to finish drying them in the dehydrator for a few hours, or until brittle so they will store without spoiling.
One important note is to keep track of your peppers. If you’re like me, you will be preserving several different types of peppers at once in order to fill the dehydrator or smoker. The problem with this is the peppers, shrink, change color and look nothing like they started once they are finished. Be sure to keep them separated and keep a list of which ones are which, then label the bags when you store them. These also can ground up to be used in dishes or a seasoning blend. When grinding wear something over your face because inhaling the pepper flakes is not pleasant.
Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!
Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at email@example.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.