Not a lot of gardening for me this week, although Chris has been out pruning and tidying again. I do however have a gardening highlight as I’ve eventually dried my chilli peppers. My six this week are the stages, from growing to storing, involved in preserving the produce from three plants, a mild capsicum ‘Cayenne’, the hotter c. ‘Apache’ and the fiery c. ‘Scotch Bonnet’.
Stage 1 – I didn’t grow the chilli plants from seed as I’d left it too late and so I bought young plants from a local nursery. The Scoville score is used to measure the heat of individual varieties of chilli, I chose three different heat levels ‘Cayenne’ – 30-50,000 scoville heat units (SHU), ‘Apache’ – 80-100,000 SHU and ‘Scotch Bonnet’, up to 400,000 SHU. They grew quickly and strongly and by early July, flowers were developing nicely. I kept the plants moist at all times and gave them a weekly dose of tomorite, a liquid feed containing seaweed which is great for fruit and flowers in the growing season.
Stage 2 – By the end of September, there were decent crops of ‘Apache’ and ‘Cayenne’ peppers growing and they were starting to redden. However, there were only two peppers on the ‘Scotch Bonnet’. I really don’t know why as all three plants were treated in the same way, but as it is so hot a tiny amount will no doubt go a long way!
Stage 3 – I have to admit there has been a delay in harvesting and the reason for this was simple – I forgot about them, having moved the plants onto the floor when using my potting bench in October. I’m actually amazed that they survived and hadn’t succumbed to mould, rot or frost, but they were fine!
Stage 4 – Once harvested, I did some research on preserving the peppers and found that there is a choice – bottling in oil or vinegar, freezing or drying. I decided on the latter, the rationale being that as I hadn’t got a huge crop, drying and crushing would make them go further and last longer. The first job was to wash and pat dry, followed by slicing them up – once done, I took great care in washing my hands – rubbing ones eyes with even a hint of chilli on the fingers is to be avoided at all costs! When it came to the ‘Scotch Bonnet’, I used a pair of disposable gloves – taking no chances.
Stage 5 – Having decided to dry them, I followed the advice of Cayenne Diane , a chilli expert who describes several methods. I immediately excluded the outdoor drying option for as we are all well aware, there is a distinct lack of warmth and sunshine in England at the moment. I could have strung them up indoors, but consistently dry warmth is required and I felt this was too risky, even over a radiator. Diane recommends indoor drying and for best results employs the use of a food dehydrator – I don’t have one, so it was down to an experiment with my electric fan oven. On the lowest heat, just under 100 centigrade, with the door sightly ajar (to avoid moisture building up in the oven), the peppers were laid out on trays and popped in the oven. I checked them regularly to ensure they weren’t cooking and to my great satisfaction, about 90 minutes later they had dried. All three are fairly thin skinned – thicker varieties take far longer.
Stage 6 – I used a pestle and mortar to lightly crush the dried peppers ready for storing, taking care not to breath in any dust from them. I contemplated mixing them up together but thought the better of it – I simply do not have the expertise to produce a useable concoction and didn’t want to spoil them all.
Into sterilised jars and ready for use! Chris put a tiny particle of the ‘Apache’ on his tongue, this experiment gave us fair warning of the care we’ll need to take when adding this one to a dish. The ‘Scotch Bonnet’ is going to my brother – the hotter the better as far as he’s concerned and I’m looking forward to hearing how it compares with a favourite of his – ‘Dave’s Insanity Sauce’!
My only preserving experience previously was the production of a rather dubious apple chutney (wasn’t inspiring), so I’m really pleased with these three jars. There isn’t a lot, but its great to have grown something that’s going to last for some months to come and hopefully contribute to a variety of great dishes!
That’s my six for this week – for more, please visit the home of SoS at https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/