As you may know, I got into patio gardening in a serious manner last year during the pandemic. Growing a bunch of different plants gave me a bit of relief during the craziness of 2020. While not every plant was a success, I learned enough that my garden this year is going gangbusters, and it’s still early in the growing season. Last year, tomatoes were a definite fail. Beans, again an F. But peppers I gave myself an B+, and I’m hoping to improve my grades this year. One of the things I love about growing peppers is making my own dried chilis, and chili powders. I also make pretty dang good jalapeno preserves, and hot sauces too! But the whole thing about absolutely controlling the quality, heat, and flavor of my seasonings is what drives me. I generally dry my chilis, then either use them that way, or grind them into powder when needed.
First, allow me to let you in on something that I didn’t know. Peppers aren’t annuals. Maybe that’s elementary to some, but I always thought you grew them for the year and then they were done, start back over next year. With patio gardening, you can keep your pepper plants through the winter and, with a bit of trimming and work, they’ll blast into pepper-making mode early the next year! Last year I found this out by accident. We have 2 levels to our patio, a lower, uncovered patio, and a covered screened-in section. Both are large, around 20’x60′. During the warm months, we have screens up, during the colder months, we have plastic curtains that enclose it. With our fireplace outside, the temperature in the screened-in section never really dips below 60 degrees. Last year, some of my peppers were still producing late in the year, so I moved them inside when we switched out the screens. I watered them just like I did the other plants we have to move in, and lo and behold they survived and even thrived as soon as spring started coming along. Last year I only managed to do this with a few jalapenos and anaheims. This year my plan is to bring many more inside! I’m growing Carolina Reapers, Red Ghosts, jalapenos, anaheims, cow horns (one of my faves,) habaneros, tabascos, and anchos this year.
Drying Chilis and making chili powders
Making your own chili powders is super easy. Simply dehydrate the peppers, grind them, and voila- chili powder. There are lots of uses for chili powders- you can make hot sauce, sprinkle a bit in for added spice to a stew or soup, make your own seasoning blends, etc. However, the thing I love most about making my own chili powders is the variability I can add. For my first harvest of peppers this year, I picked some jalapenos and young anaheims. Anaheim peppers are mild and fruity. Jalapenos are also on the mild side (relative to Reapers) but with a bit more spice.
Note, I keep my dehydrator in the garage. I dry herbs a lot (which smell great,) and peppers, which can sometimes take over an area with their aroma. Also, if you’re growing superhots, it’s best to do it where you can get ventilation. You don’t want a bunch of Reapers drying in the kitchen making everyone’s eyes water!
Smoke ’em if ya got em!
To really create some nuance and pizazz, I smoked these peppers along with a chicken I was smoking for dinner. I used a good bit of cherry wood for the smoke to give them a good flavor. I had them on the smoker for about 1.5 hours at 250 degrees. Then, I removed them and placed them in my dehydrator at 131 degrees for 12 hours. Obviously, smaller peppers will dry out quicker than larger ones, so some may take a bit longer. Check often, and pull smaller ones out sooner. I like to make sure they are fully dehydrated though. Then, you can either store them indefinitely in an airtight jar, or remove the stems and grind away in a spice grinder. As a very helpful hint, wear a mask, especially with anything hotter than a jalapeno. Gloves and goggles are recommended for the super hots.
As always, I hope y’all enjoy!