Whether you enjoy mild sweet peppers or the hotter varieties, they are easy to grow and preserve. There are many pepper varieties that can be eaten fresh, dried, or used in pepper vinegars, salsas, and hot sauces. Some of my favorite varieties include:
* Jalapeno peppers
* Sweet bell peppers
* Sweet and hot banana peppers
* Poblano peppers
* Habanero peppers
* Serrano chili peppers
* Cayenne peppers
* Tabasco peppers
* Gypsy hybrid peppers
* Cherry peppers
* Hungarian wax peppers
* Cubanelle peppers
The method you choose for preserving peppers depends largely on the variety. Typically, I preserve my harvest in one of these ways: by freezing, in sauces, in salsas, in vinegars, or by drying.
To freeze peppers, harvest fresh and crisp young peppers and wash them. Peppers will go limp quickly, so pick them shortly before you plan to freeze them. Cut the peppers in half and remove seeds. I dry the seeds, place them in small plastic storage bags, label, and save for next year’s planting.
Slice peppers into rings or julienne slices. Boil water and blanch peppers for 2-3 minutes. Cool quickly in ice water and thoroughly drain. Place in zippered freezer bags and seal. Label outside of bag with a permanent marker, including the variety and the date. Use the frozen peppers in cooked foods such as soups, stews, gumbos, chili, pasta dishes, spaghetti sauce, stir fries, etc.
To make hot pepper vinegar, pack washed hot peppers into a glass jar or bottle. I use Tabasco peppers. I often mix green and red peppers together. Be sure it is glass designed to withstand heat so it will not crack from the hot vinegar. I prefer to use a bottle designed for pouring or sprinkling. Add salt if desired for flavoring. Pour hot vinegar over the peppers, leaving a bit of head space. Seal tightly and let steep for 4-5 weeks. Experiment with different types of vinegar such as white, cider, sherry, and other flavored vinegars. Hot pepper vinegar makes a nice gift. Give it a personal touch by adding homespun fabric and a handmade gift tag.
You can also make your own salsa. There are many recipes for homemade salsa. Your recipe choice depends largely on your taste. The choice of peppers depends on whether you want mild or hot salsa. Once your salsa is made, ladle into Mason canning jars and process according to your home canner directions. Be certain that each jar “pops” when cooling from the canning process. This indicates that the jar has properly sealed. Unsealed canned foods are not safe.
You can dry peppers in an oven, in a food dehydrator, or you can simply air dry them. I prefer the air drying method. I take a very strong needle and “sew” them together with very strong quilting thread. I leave room between peppers so air can circulate. I suspend them in front of a sunny window and allow them to completely dry, which usually takes several weeks. When fully dried, store in zippered bags or plastic containers. I use these primarily in stir fries, fried rice, and pasta dishes. Dried seeds, such as hot red pepper flakes, are great for seasoning foods like pizza and pasta. You can rehydrate dried peppers prior to use by soaking in water, if desired.
Be careful when handling hot peppers. The oils can burn you. I use thin latex gloves when handling hot peppers, and I avoid touching my skin, face, lips, and eyes. Be care of other items you handle also during this process. When my daughter was young, I was in the midst of handling hot peppers and she wanted a kiwi. I peeled and sliced the kiwi, and she complained that it was a very spicy kiwi. You can always remove your gloves and wash your hands if needed.
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