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When You’ve Got a Bushel of Cayenne Chiles, Consider Drying Some

Sun Dried Heat

My jumbo cayenne pepper bushes have been pumping out enormous, deep red and very zesty fruit all season. For a while I could keep up with them, putting them in certain dishes, or pepper jellies, or just plain giving them away. Now, though, I’ve managed to scare off all the usual victims few folks want fresh cayennes, and I’m buried in requests for all sorts of other jellies. Including about four cases of habanero jam, with and without various fruits. And did I mention I’ve got one small refrigerator full of ripe serranos?

You see my challenge.

Fortunately, cayenne peppers aren’t hard to dry. Wifey and I put a bunch of them on heavy thread, spacing them out so that air can get around each chile, and we hung the strands up in Jessica’s room. With the ceiling fan on. I mean, it’s not like she’s ever gonna use the room again, right? She’s off the grad school, and getting married soon (in spite of my cautions to the contrary), so that space can be converted to other uses, right?

Hot Flakes

Man, you should have heard the screeking and scrawking when Jessica came home unexpectedly for a weekend visit! You’d have thought we’d moved ALL her stuff out, or something. (No, the furniture, clothing and books that were missing weren’t sold at a garage sale; we hadn’t had time to schedule that.) And there weren’t THAT many chiles drying in there, honestly.

But I digress.

The drying’s going well. The chiles first begin to wrinkle, the get leathery and start to shrink quite a bit. It’s amazing how much water is in a chile, since processing them in a blender doesn’t release that much juice. Still, the dried weight is a tiny fraction of the original, fresh pepper mass.

Once the chiles are dried, I carefully remove them from the lanyard and sort. If they look too dark, I put them into one pile. The red ones go into another. Then these red chiles go into the processor.

Red Viagra

Here’s where you might consider a gas mask or something. Me, I moved my whole powder-making process outdoors, onto the back porch.

I have an old coffee grinder I’ve relegated to spice mill. Before I put chiles in that, though, I cleaned it out by processing some white rice through it. That gets rid of any residues from other spices. A neat trick! Also, I broke up the dried chiles by hand (yes, I used gloves; I’m slow on the uptake sometimes, but not terminally so), since the little mill can’t take a whole chile. Some of these hand-crushed chiles went directly into pepper flakes, rather like you’d use on pizza or in Italian sauces. However, these flakes are Much Hotter! (You’ve been warned.)

I processed the chiles, seeds and all, into fine powder. A deeply red, slightly brown powder at the end. The air around the grill was filled with the heady aroma of cayenne powder. (Archie the garden cat and the Goldens had judiciously moved to the other end of the yard by then.) I could see I’d have a wonderful, fiery-hot spice for soups, chilis and enchiladas. I’ll use some of the powder in experiments such as enchilada sauce or zesty marinara. Oh yes, I’ve got plans for this lovely stuff.

Cayenne Powder

Because I have so much of it, I’ve put plenty into small, plastic bags and sealed them. Having a nice food sealer that extracts excess air is nice! Then I put the bags into a quart canning jar with a tight-fitting lid and popped the whole shebang into the freezer.

I’ve now got more than enough fresh cayenne powder to see me through the Mayan Apocalypse, the zombie one to follow, and the ice age that’s coming in a few decades. (Global warming, don’tcha know.) I’ve only got another twenty lanyards to process, later this fall. (I’m ignoring the thirty pounds of cayennes about to ripen in the garden currently. No, my mother wasn’t an ostrich; why do you ask?)

I guess I know what I’m giving Clan members for Christmas…

Enjoy the (Homemade Scorch-Powder) Heat!

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