Monday 10 February 2014

Hot stuff

One of the essential spices is chilli, and one of the best chillis is cayenne. Home-grown chillis give a much better range than commercial ones, and if you grow a named variety, you know what to expect.
All home-grown - except the contents of the large jar of chilli powder!

Cayenne grows happily in a greenhouse in the UK, and equally happily outdoors in our potager. It turns into a rather leggy bush, which needs staking to stop it falling over. One good plant will provide enough to keep a curry-loving family in chillies for a year. My favourite variety - reliable and prolific - is Long Red Slim, though I keep experimenting with other varieties.

A decorative Cayenne cultivar called "Fireflame" - growing in a flower bed with Black Millet, Black-eyed Susan and Tagetes

Drying ripe chillis is easy. I thread them on kitchen string using a darning needle and just hang them up somewhere cool and dry. If you want the flavour with greatly reduced heat, cut them in strips lengthways, remove the seeds and dry in a cool oven or with a dehydrator.

Poblano (left) and "Pinocchio's Nose" extra-long Cayenne type chillies, drying in the cellier

Turning the dry chillis into powder calls for - a gadget!

Genuine 1970s moulinette - the blender goblet is long gone

My little old spice grinder copes very well with dried cayenne peppers, turning them into flakes. It needs careful cleaning though! Three strings of peppers yesterday became three quarters of a jar of flakes. You also need a well-ventilated work area, to avoid explosions. Not from the chillis, that is! A faceful of fresh chilli powder is quite an experience. The antidote to an overdose is full cream milk - capsacin, the key ingredient, is soluble in butterfat.

There are hundreds of varieties of chilli (chili, chile...) derived from several species of capsicum crossed and re-crossed into a complete tangle. Capsicum pubescens types, which have purple fruit and are small and bushy, make good pot plants and can be overwintered indoors. Many varieties are highly ornamental with multicoloured fruit and/or leaves. My favourite use of chillies as an ornament was in the Marriott Hotel in Mumbai, where each table in the restaurant bore a small pot containing a little chilli plant covered in small plump fruit. Needless to say I took a couple of the fruit home with me.

Last October I bought a little chilli plant in a pot from Jardiland, particularly for its spectacular black fruit and partly because it was all on its own and I felt sorry for it. The fruit did not turn red, but dried ton the plant to a warm brown.

Nameless variety of "Piment"

Today, by complete coincidence with yesterday's spice grinding, when I came to water it I realised that it had responded to a little TLC by producing delicately coloured flowers.

Little Beauty

And plenty more to come

Delicate - but the peppers have some punch!

The flowers are rather like the F1 hybrid "Trifetti" (see spice jar in top picture) now superceded by Purple Tiger which has variegated foliage (green white and purple) and purple fruit ripening to red. And they're hot!


Jean said...

I really look forward to the time when I have the time, space and inclination to dry and store our own chillies.
For that purpose I have bookmarked your post so thanks for the information.
On the other hand, I might just call round and see how you do it when the times comes. I'll bring a cake if you put t'kettle on ........!!

Tim said...

Jean, it's very satisfying, making your own chilli powder from scratch. By all means bring a cake - we'll make you welcome! P.

Ken Broadhurst said...

We've had good summers and bad summers for growing peppers (cayenne, banana, jalapeño) here in St-Aignan, but enough good summers that we have a steady supply. Rather than drying them, we put them up in vinegar -- just pack a jar full of peppers and pour boiling vinaigre blanc over them to cover. Screw on a lid and the jar seals as it cools. It's a North Carolina thing. They keep for a long time. (I bring dried Mexican chili peppers back from the U.S. every spring -- they don't weigh me down.)

Pollygarter said...

You'll not find me complaining about pickled chillis! We just opened a jar put up in 2004 and they're fine. I'll have to try your method, it sounds ideal. I first had pickkled chillis on a visit to Israel - then I went to the pickle market in Akko. Wow. All the senses get hit at once.