Valley Bounty, September 7: Peppers
Peppers come in lots of colors, shapes, and flavors, and short of growing your own, there’s no way to get that variety in fresh peppers other than to buy them from a local farmer. Find a farmer who loves peppers, and you can experiment with tastes and cuisines that are otherwise unavailable. Look for small, sweet varieties for school lunchboxes, thin-walled frying peppers, blocky varieties for roasting, and of course all levels of heat, from mild to fiery.
Want to celebrate the pepper? The Kitchen Garden’s 6th Annual Chilifest takes place both Saturday and Sunday the 14th and 15th in Hadley. Music, art, cooking demonstrations, a chili cook-off, and lots of food, all weekend long.
CISA’s list of pepper growers is here. Deerfield’s The Bars Farm has a particularly wide selection of peppers. They grow 30 varieties, and label them with cooking suggestions in their farmstand.
I learned to grill pasilla peppers, which are dark green, skinny, and a little bit spicy, from farmer Allison Marsh from The Bars Farm. They’ve become a late summer favorite. Slit them open, remove the seeds, and push in chunks of cheddar, then put on the grill until they are soft and really, really good.
The Kitchen Garden’s recipe for roasted peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes takes advantage of freshly-harvested potatoes and the summery flavors of tomatoes and peppers.
Freezing, drying, and canning are all options for peppers. They are especially easy to freeze since they don’t require blanching. Small peppers can be thrown into the freezer whole in bags. This is a good way to freeze jalapeños or spicy thai peppers. Core and chop larger peppers and bag them up; since they are not juicy, they don’t stick together, and you can take out what you need all winter to top pizzas, add to stir fries or soups, or mix into your scrambled eggs.
Frozen roasted peppers are good, too. Roast a batch for freezing, or throw a couple on the grill when you are grilling something else. Some people take the skins off after roasting, and some people run the frozen pepper under cold water to take the skin off before use.
The most common way to can peppers is to pickle them. There’s also a recipe for canned marinated peppers in Eugenia Bone’s book, Well Preserved. You can find it on-line here. Marinated peppers are good with crunchy bread or on a winter hors d’oeuvres plate of pickles and cheeses.
Drying peppers is another option. Many varieties, like cayenne, dry easily strung up in a shady, breezy place, especially if the weather isn’t too wet and humid. I grow and dry paprika peppers, which can be either sweet or spicy. These tend to be thicker-walled, and I dry them in my dehydrator, then grind in a food processor. I’ve also roasted them, then dried. Either way, the paprika is more flavorful than anything I ever bought already ground.
CISA’s food preservation resource page is here