Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why I Love Peppers and How To Make Your Own Red Pepper Flakes...

This comes to no surprise to people who know me that of the many vegetables we grow, peppers are one of my favorites.  We experiment with between 15-20 varieties, from sweet to spicy.  My grandfather, Pop, gave me a love for peppers.  As a young boy, I used to watch him eat cayenne peppers with his cornbread when I slept over with him and my grandmother.   At that time, either his friends or a trip to the grocery store would have him a mountain of these very hot peppers lying on the table to be cut up and jarred.  It wouldn't take long for that mountain to disappear into red and green colored chunks of pepper jarred up in vinegar.  Those jars typically lasted him through the winter and boy was he ready for more when spring would come back around.  I've never seen anyone enjoy eating peppers so hot they burn the first layer of taste buds away, but he does.  I still look back on those memories fondly.  Every year I still grow cayenne peppers for him to make his pepper & vinegar jars.  Even though he's in his 80's, he still loves receiving a big bag full of fresh cayenne peppers and he always makes it a point to make a jar for me before he's finished.  

As for us, growing peppers is like having rows of healthy snack food waiting to be picked.  We grow more sweet varieties than we do hot and the difference in sweet flavors is incredible.  Just to share with you the nutritional info on sweet red peppers (not organic, so I would assume much higher numbers from 180 grown peppers due to the great soil and ocean mineral feedings)  from the "Nutritional Fact and Analysis website"   (http://nutritiondata.self.com/)  


                           Amounts Per Selected Serving                     %DV
Vitamin A                  4666 IU                                                 93%
Beta Carotene           2420 mcg 
Vitamin C                   190 mg                                                317%
Vitamin D                       ~                                                        ~
Vitamin E                       2.4 mg                                                 12%
Vitamin K                      7.3 mcg                                                  9%
Thiamin                          0.1 mg                                                   5%
Riboflavin                       0.1 mg                                                   7%
Niacin                             1.5 mg                                                   7%
Vitamin B6                    0.4 mg                                                 22%
Folate                          68.5 mcg                                                17%
Vitamin B12                 0.0 mcg                                                 0%
Pantothenic Acid          0.5 mg                                                  5%
Choline                           8.3 mg
Betaine                           0.1 mg


                         Amounts Per Selected Serving                       %DV
Calcium                     10.4 mg                                                 1%
Iron                             0.6 mg                                                 4%
Magnesium                17.9 mg                                                 4%
Phosphorus               38.7 mg                                                  4%
Potassium                314   mg                                                  9%
Sodium                       6.0 mg                                                   0%
Zinc                            0.4 mg                                                    2%
Copper                       0.0 mg                                                   1%
Manganese                0.2 mg                                                   8%
Selenium                    0.1  mcg                                                0%
Making Red Pepper Flakes

Okay, like I said, we still have an abundance of cayenne’s (even after the CSA and Pop).  What to do?  Dry them into red pepper flakes!

Pick the cayenne’s when they are red.  Rinse them off and pat dry.  (If buying at the store, buy organic so there is no pesticide residue to worry about.) Place whole peppers in a 170 degree oven for about 6-8 hours until they are dry and wrinkled.  (Some folks cut the peppers up and lay them skin side up, we don't do that because cayenne's are thin walled and they come out fine.)  
Let them rest on the counter top to cool and harden, which could take an hour or two.  In our case, we let them sit on the counter top for about two-three days, since they are dried and not cut or opened, there is no real worries of oxidation or mold.  You can use a coffee grinder or a food processor to grind up the peppers. (Remember while handling hot peppers, wear gloves to prevent the peppers from getting on your hands and never rub your eyes!)  The less you grind the more of a flake you will get and the more you grind, it becomes a powder.  Once you have grinded, let the pepper flakes rest in the grinder for 10-15 minutes before you open it up to prevent breathing the pepper dust.  Then, place in a jar or bag for later use.  It should last you 6 months or longer.  If the flakes become discolored, discard them as they have oxidized and the flavor is gone.  Enjoy the happiness of making a much better tasting spice at home!

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