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« A New Season and Our Fresh Crew at DeLaney! | Main | Cucurbita Crazy »
Monday
Oct102011

The Finale

This week is Gleaning Week here at the farm and we want to encourage you to come out during normal farm hours (so that one of us is there to assist you) and pick whatever is leftover in the fields.  Most likely there will be herbs, peppers and a few others. If you have decided on a time to come, but the time is a little questionable (like 1 or 2 in the afternoon) give us a call to make sure someone is out there.  
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In the meantime, I want to give you some valuable information on drying peppers to archive so that we can all be vegetable masters!
First, there is some info on everything you need to know about drying peppers.  I stumbled upon a website of a St. Louis chilihead who posted a thorough list of instructions on how to dry peppers.  He has several methods and I just decided to post all of them.  If you have a second, follow the link and check out his Scoville scale chart on all things spicy.  I bit into a habenero pepper for the first time this weekend and thought my face was burning off.  I wouldn't know what to do if anything spicier entered my mouth but there are hot sauces and pepper hybrids out there that are simply insane!

 

Why Dry Hot Peppers?
The main reason to learn how to dry hot peppers is simply to enable you to keep them for a long time. Peppers can last for several days to a few weeks at room temperature or in the refrigerator before they start to rot. Freezing peppers, if done right, can make them last several months, but the thawing process can be a tricky one where often you're left with overly soft and mushy chiles. Dried chiles can last from several months to a few years if store properly.
Removing moisture from peppers will magnify and intensify the heat, flavor, and natural sugars it contains. Dehydrated chiles pack more fiery punch and ferocity in both solid food and hot sauce recipes than fresh peppers. Plus, if you grind or crush dried peppers, you can use it as an all-purpose flavoring and seasoning for any occasion.

 

Preparing Chile Peppers to Be Dried
Before you start drying peppers please take the following precautions:
If you're drying peppers indoors, keep the area well-ventilated. Warmed peppers will give off pungent fumes that are irritating to the eyes. If you have a ceiling fan, use it; or better yet, open your windows and bring in a portable fan or two to keep the air circulating and minimize the watery eyes and burned nasal passages. Take extra precaution around young children, pets, or anyone who is sensitive to spicy foods.
If possible, always wear gloves when handling hot peppers. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching hot peppers. Do not scratch your eyes, nose, face, or any other sensitive area of your body after handling.
Inspect each pepper before starting the drying process. Discard peppers if they have:
Soft, mushy, or spoiled areas
White, grayish, or diseased-looking spots
Have a questionable or rotten odor 
Wash the peppers with warm water and dry thoroughly with a cloth towel.
Remove the stems from your peppers. If you're drying in them in your oven or food dehydrator you may wish to slice the peppers length-wise (this will allow them to dry faster). If you're drying the peppers indoors you may want to keep them whole as it usually takes a few weeks to dry and not cutting them open help prevent premature spoilage (but you may wish to experiment based on your regional humidity levels and temperature).

 

Drying in the Oven
You can dry peppers in any regular kitchen oven. It's convenient that this method of drying can be done in just about any kitchen in the western world, but there is one big disadvantage; it may take several hours to a few days for the peppers to fully dry, depending on the size. It can also heat up your kitchen considerably if you're drying on warm spring or hot summer day.
Simply position the peppers on a pan or cookie sheet in a single layer and place it in the oven. Set the oven to its lowest temperature setting, which is usually labeled as "WARM", or just below 150 degrees Fahrenheit (120° to 140° is desirable). To allow moisture to escape, keep the oven door slightly open at least a couple of inches (now you know why it can make your kitchen hot). Every hour, rotate and/or flip the peppers over for even drying.
If you find peppers getting soft, brown/black, or extremely hot on the side where they touch the pan, then they're getting cooked; you certainly don't want this, as you're just trying to dry these to use at a later date. To prevent this, try one of the following:
Turn down the temperature slightly. Not all ovens are calibrated the same - some may be off by 10° or more from the "real" temperature.
Flip the peppers over and move them around more often
Open the oven door wider 
As soon as they're fully dry, remove from the oven and place in an air-tight container. Larger, thicker-skinned peppers will take longer to dry than smaller or thin-skinned chiles.

 

Drying Hot Peppers Indoors
This is the "easiest" method of drying peppers, yet probably the most time-consuming. Place whole or sliced chile peppers single-layer in a bowl, plate, or sheet and set them in a very dry, warm, and extremely well-ventilated area with loads of sunlight. Rotate the peppers regularly and discard any that show signs of softness or spoilage. If at all possible, place your bowl or sheet outdoors when the forecast calls for hot, sunny, and dry weather (this will speed up the drying process). Within one or two weeks, you should start seeing your beloved chiles get dry and brittle.  Also, there is the classic way of drying peppers indoors by simply knotting them to a string and letting them hang in a sunny window or placing them in a paper bag clipped at the top to get the same dry and brittle results.  Every kitchen is different so try all the methods to see which is best.  

 

When They're Dry
Properly dried peppers should be devoid of any signs of moisture or soft "fleshiness". Fully dried peppers can still retain a bit of flexibility in their skin - you don't have to dry them until they're brown, crumbling, or hard as a rock. But when in doubt, the pepper should be uniformly dry, slightly brittle, and have a tough skin.
What to do with them you're done? You can:
Separate them by pepper type and store them in high-quality Ziploc-type plastic bags or plastic containers.  This way you'll always have a handy supply of dried peppers to use in sauces, soups, and other dishes.
Crush them in a food processor, blender, or spice mill and create a chile pepper seasoning. Give them to family and friends as unique gifts so that they can spice up their own recipes.

Plant the seeds for a new crop of chile pepper plants.

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What about Storing Root Vegetables?
I also want to add a quick reference on how to store root vegetables.  There are techniques out there that involve digging pits and burying your vegetables in holes but I want to just take a simple approach that is not specific to any particular situation.  Find a cool dry place to store them and stay within the 32 to 38 degree range.  I am going to choose a crawl space under my porch and storing the veggies in a cooler.  You do not want a space that does not get enough circulation either.  Take these factors and find your own space.  It can be a fun experiment but just know that these root veggies have high tolerence to cold but not freezing temps!

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All-Encompassing Vegetable Soup

It is a trick with all of the frugal folks out there to always understand how to make vegetable soup out of whatever is in the fridge or freezer.  Lets focus on DeLaney crops and just see what happens!  

A large pot of soup needs to have a solid foundation.  1 quart of broth to every 6 cups of vegetables can be a start.  Always have ample amounts of garlic, salt, pepper and random herbs available to add to your foundation.  

When preparing your soup, separate the slow-softeners (carrot, onion, potato) and the quick-softeners (tomatoes, corn, squash).

Using a deep heavy-bottomed stockpot, saute garlic and slow-softeners for 4-6 minutes in oil with a pinch or two of salt.  

Add broth and bring to a simmer.  Add everything else and reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the vegetables are fork tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  

Whatever you have and come up with, its going to be great when everything is put together.  

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It was a pleasure to be a part of DeLaney and to have the opportunity to relay information from the farm to the community through this blog every week!  Hope it was a good read and that you continue with another author at the beginning of the season next year!  Take care and happy gardening!

 

Stephen

 

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