Today, just in time for National Pepper Month and National Hot Sauce Day, here is a detailed report of our pepper production from Jim’s garden this year. As a result of his almost fanatical zeal for hot peppers, we have fresh peppers, frozen peppers, dried peppers, fermented peppers, hot pepper powder and hot pepper sauce. So many peppers.
Extending the Pepper Growing Season
In the spring, Jim used his portable hoop house to warm the soil so we could transplant peppers seedlings earlier than we have in the past. That made a big difference. Other years the peppers set fruit but didn’t have time to ripen before days grew short and nights grew cold.
In the fall, he also put the hoop house over the pepper plants so they could stay toasty warm and continue ripening. But eventually autumn wins. There isn’t enough daylight or heat. A major windstorm proved to be the last straw. We pulled all the pepper plants and put them in the not-a-garage for picking a few days later.
Pepper Varieties in Our Garden
Thunderbolt Sweet Italian is a beautiful variety we adore. Whether green or fully red, they taste delicious raw. Any that we could not eat fresh or use in cooking are diced and saved in our freezer. The seedlings were sourced from a local greenhouse. Five plants gave us 75 peppers at a total weight of 30.5 pounds.
Thai Dragon are decorative and extremely hot. We grew one plant from seed. It surprised us with 313 peppers at a total weight of 1 pound.
Hot Hungarian is our second largest pepper fruit and our main hot pepper crop because the level of heat is comfortable for everyday use. I add some to any cooking that would benefit from a little spiciness. Five plants gave us 218 peppers at a total weight of 20 pounds.
Sugar Rush Peach. Jim found this variety in the Baker’s Rare Seed catalog. It’s a keeper. We grew it from seed indoors, timing our start date for maximum season length. The first taste is … well … peachy. Then the heat starts. And grows. Two plants gave us a whopping 473 peppers at a total weight of 14 ¾ pounds.
Hot Lemon. On a whim Jim bought one plant from a local greenhouse. He harvested 663 small and extremely hot cayenne-type peppers at a total weight of 3 ½ pounds.
Jalepeno. I found a packet of seeds at a neighbourhood exchange in late spring so our two plants were a bit late getting into the garden. Even so, we had a respectable harvest of 28 peppers, total weight 1.75 pounds.
And yes, Jim keeps a spreadsheet. You’re not surprised, are you?
Preserving the Pepper Harvest
After we bring home the harvest, many more hours go into processing. We eat the sweets fresh, and happily share them with our neighbours. Any excess are cleaned and diced for chili and salsa or cut for stir fry, then frozen. The Hot Hungarians are diced and frozen for chili, stew and all kinds of pan fries. Even hotter peppers are minced and frozen. Also, many trays are dehydrated. The small size of dried pepper pieces means they take much less space to store. These can be ground to powder as needed throughout the winter. Careful, though – don’t breathe that pepper dust!
And finally, hot peppers make great ferments. Jim packs them firmly into jars, leaving at least an inch of head space. He fills the jars with a 5% brine of filtered water and pickling salt and weights down the contents with pickle pebbles. The peppers start to form bubbles within a few hours, and need daily attention until the wildest of the bubbling stops. (Pickle pipes are a wonderful invention and very helpful during this stage.) We let the peppers continue to ferment for at least three months. Pureed, they make amazing hot pepper sauces.
Also very special is our mouthwatering Crab Apple and Hot Pepper Jelly.