Our garden didn’t produce very much this year. The combination of heavy rain in June followed immediately by a heat wave kept most of our plants from maturing. The vegetables we did produce were mostly eaten by the squirrels. For whatever reason, our cayenne plants produced like machines. And as you might expect, the pests left them alone.
We were left scratching our heads, wondering what to do with so many peppers.
Despite the multitude of cayenne recipes on the internet, there are only a few ways to really use them. Unless you grew up in the Szechuan province of China and are used to having fire in your mouth, you’re probably looking for a way to use a little pepper at a time and preserve the rest. There’s no better way to do that than to dry them. Most people tie the cayennes along a string (called a ristra) and hang them in the garage to dry for a few weeks. We have a food dehydrator, so we decided to speed up the process.
Crushed red pepper is nice by itself, but we thought we’d use some of our other peppers from the garden to make a dried pepper medley. So my wife rough-chopped them and put them in the dryer:
You really should wear gloves when you do this. The ribs (not the seeds) of the peppers contain the capsaicin, which is the heat element. Chopping the peppers will release that heat all over your hands. It’s not so much that you’ll feel a burning sensation on your skin. It’s later that day when you have to worry, even after multiple hand washings. You’ll get sleepy and rub your eyes and the pain will set in. Your eyes will burn and water for at least an hour, and everyone around you will laugh. I speak from experience. I’ve had to watch a few football games through burning, squinted eyes after making a pot of chili.
After the peppers are dried, you throw them in a food processor and chop them to the desired size. Here’s our haul:
It might seem like a lot of work to make one little jar of crushed peppers, but a little goes a really long way.
You can also make some Cayenne Pepper Vinegar:
- Pour about a cup and a half of distilled vinegar into a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer.
- Once it’s gently bubbling, add one cayenne pepper, halved lengthwise.
- Add a half teaspoon (or more) of dijon mustard and a pinch of salt.
- Once the salt and mustard have dissolved, remove the pan from heat.
- Pour the mixture into a clean jar and refrigerate for up to a month.
I’ve used the cayenne pepper vinegar to season pork, greens and cole slaw.
I saved about a dozen peppers to make some Fresh Cayenne Hot Sauce. I’ll post the results later.