Passion for Peppers
Friends and family know that I like things spicy. Indian, Mexican, Thai, Cajun, Southwestern cuisine… I enjoy them all. Many restaurants these days do not believe me when I order something spicy. So it was just a matter of time before I started growing my own hot peppers. A few years ago, before we bought our own house, I experimented with growing some cayenne peppers and from that point I was hooked. It was easy, fun, and gave me something to do outside to get away from the computer. I usually had more than I could possibly use, so I would just give them away or dry them for the winter months.
Once we became home owners, with more space for a garden, it was just a matter of time before I expanded my pepper empire. Jalapenos were next. Then, in 2010 I had my first experience with a bumper crop of habaneros. But there’s only so much fresh salsa one can make. Audra had been wanting to explore canning, based on fond memories of family traditions with her grandmother. So we decided to explore preserving the habaneros as a jelly. We made a small batch of seven jars, then pickled some jalapenos and bananas too. The result? For one thing, grandma wouldn’t go near this stuff. We also discovered my brother’s crack-like addiction to habanero jelly. Obviously we had to make more in 2011.
So earlier this year, I planted a double crop of habaneros, as well as my usual collection of jalapenos and cayennes. But I didn’t stop there. With Audra becoming allergic to pretty much everything except tomatoes and parsley over the last few years, she’s been giving up on gardening as a hobby. So I was left with much more real estate to use. Using a combination of containers and the perimeter of our yard, in total we had 14 varieties of hot peppers growing. Let’s see if I can name them now:
Mammoth (really just an overground jalapeno)
Hot Cherry (these were mislabeled, and in the end appear to have been jalapenos)
This was getting serious. A slug infestation at the beginning of the season set back the habaneros a bit, but that was quickly overcome and before long everything was growing very well. Despite the insane amount of rain this year, we had a very good crop, this year branching out to jalapeno jelly as well. We did a pickled batch of sweet and hot peppers (as we did the previous year), and then the rest is sitting in our freezer for the mid-winter inkling for some heat.
Traveling took my attention away from my peppers in August and September. Still, everywhere I went, I was surrounded by pepper fans. In Ireland, our friend Bela could eat peppers whole. While I was away at Electro-Music 2011, I met some other pepper enthusiasts, including a guy from Kansas, and a father/son team from England who actually packed their own habaneros when they came to the US. We rapped for quite a while about Scoville units, heat vs. flavor, recipes, and growing methods.
This year’s canning and pickling went well. Justin is satiated for another year, and we’ve got more to share and trade with others. Several coworkers have also benefitted from my surplus. As I type this, the clothesline of cayennes is just about dried in the attic, and we’re looking ahead to the pepper plan for next year. We’ll probably scale back on the varieties. The extra work required to water and maintain them took some of the fun away this year. It is also apparent that more space is needed between plants to give them room to grow, and so they do not overshadow each other. I was surprised at how high the mammoth’s got – up to my shoulders. I’d like to venture into hot sauce, but we need to order the appropriate bottles. Maybe for Christmas. And maybe I can put the cayenne strings on the tree too…
PS: Hot peppers are serious things, and should not be underestimated. I had an aunt once who burned her hands on them, requiring medical attention, and it took a long time for them to heal. You should always use gloves, eye protection and (in the extreme cases like habanero) face mask with plenty of ventilation. Keep some milk on hand for emergency rinse (water doesn’t work). Do not touch your eyes or… well, other parts, if you have been working with peppers!