Packing Away Plentiful Sweet Peppers
Dear Lovely Assistant—
So, I woke up super early this Saturday morning and trooped into the kitchen to make my weekly pot of coffee, puttered with the dishes for a few minutes and then started dicing some red peppers. Have I waxed poetic on red peppers yet? Sweet red peppers are one of the few things in this house that every creature inhabiting it will feast on in one form or another.
With this urban KC homesteading thing, one has to become somewhat creative about where to source one’s food, particularly when you want to put up a year’s supply of an item. I used to grow most to all of our red snacking and cooking peppers (I like the King of the North variety). However, now that we are trying to grow not just a decent amount of our own food, but also support a growing flower farm, sunny space on our treed lot is at a premium. I try to get multiple harvests each year from any particular plot of ground, and peppers of any type are a long-term space commitment, so I have switched up our pepper growing efforts to items that I cannot purchase in bulk from local farmers.
What do I grow in our yard in the Capsicum annum group? Mostly paprika peppers, as the Lovely Assistant likes to snack on them. I grow Alma Paprika. They have a bit of heat, but not too much for our Lovely Assistant. I like to dehydrate the remainder to keep around in the fridge or freezer for our personal supply for paprika powder when cooking. We grind our paprika fresh when we need it, so I avoid the anti-caking additives I often encounter when purchasing pre-powdered herbs and spices. As one of those humans with an abundance of food allergies who is also particularly sensitive to environmental chemicals and smells, I figure the fewer non-food items I put into my system, the better off I am. Since I run the kitchen most days, my family, including you, my Lovely Assistant, also gets to eat the way I do!
Back to the cooking peppers. I like to purchase our sweet, red peppers from the ancient farmer at our local city market. He buys my garlic; I buy bushels of what I call his “ugly red seconds September peppers.” Yes, the farmers around here have red peppers for most of the market season, but I find the September ones seem to be the most sweet. Perhaps they have taken their time lazing in the sun collecting all those wonderful peppery sugars? As a note, when your farmer has been kind enough to set aside boxes of produce for you, do please remember to return the boxes to your farmer’s stand on your next visit. It is only polite and will save them time scrounging replacements!
After a few years of doing this, we have gotten a decent handle on what our annual family consumption of sweet peppers is. For our family of three, we are currently up to seven to eight bushels of peppers. How on earth do we consume so many? Easy…. we will slice up as many as the Lovely Assistant, Eric, Harry Potter (remember the Pig Who Lived?) and any guests we have over will consume for snacks while their appetite lasts—that is close to a bushel, believe it or not. Another couple of bushels will go into diced sweet peppers for the freezer. We will use up about two resealable gallon plastic bags in our cooking each year. I like to freeze the peppers in meal portions (a couple of handfuls, give or take a bit) in little reused plastic baggies, then put a bunch of the baggies into a larger, reused gallon bag. This keeps the little baggies corralled into one area and also provides yet another use for a bag that cannot be used for liquids anymore due to popping a tiny hole in the corner. Yes, I am cheap, and I love to repurpose things. Particularly recloseable bags.
Eric also likes pepperoncini peppers on his sandwiches. I have found that he will be just fine with a sweet pepper of just about any variety that has been preserved in the pepperoncini process, as opposed to having to grow that specific variety for pickling. Approximately half a bushel of peppers preserved in this way is enough to keep him happy for a year.
My favorite way to preserve sweet peppers, however, is via roasting and preserving to the refrigerator. It is summer in a jar! Oh, the supreme magnificence of a sandwich with the scarlet loveliness of a shiny, oiled and roasted pepper peeking out from the edges, or a desperation-dinner pasta laced with the sliced beauties! I drool just thinking about it. The bulk of our remaining bushels of the sweet peppers goes to this preservation technique. Here is a video of Eric burning the peppers for the first stage of the process. Just about any recipe for refrigerator preservation of these veggies will yield decent results. I usually use the online recipe found at honest-food.net. We have yet to preserve more sweet peppers in this way than we can consume in a year. This year we put up four bushels of peppers into the spare fridge in lovely small jars, most of which I inherited from my mother, grandmother and great-aunt from my mother’s side. When I grab the peppers from the fridge over the winter, I get to smile and think of the amazing women before me who have also put up their preserves into these jars. Perhaps my Lovely Assistant will someday want to use some of my sparkly heirloom containers for her family. At the moment she says she will never do so…but so did I when I was her age!
Have a beautiful day!