Growing, Drying And Using Homemade Cayenne Pepper

This article discusses some of the uses of the cayenne pepper, as well as tips on growing and drying them.

Cayenne peppers are one of the favorite hot peppers grown today. They are medium-hot, colorful and spice up most any recipe.

Cayennes, like most peppers, are very easy to grow. They usually stand about three feet tall and two feet wide at maturity, making them ideal for containers or fence row planting. Most pepper plants also bear abundantly, so the average household will need no more that two bearing plants for as many peppers as they, and their neighbors, can use.

Most people buy their peppers as plants, already sprouted. This is by far the easiest method of starting pepper plants. They are available for purchase in any garden center and the gardener should choose plants without blooms or fruit.

Outside their native hot climate, peppers are annuals and prefer full sun. They should be slightly shaded from the most intense afternoon sun, to avoid sun scald. Cayenne pepper plants usually bear fruit from 70 to 80 days after planting. They should be set out after danger of frost has gone.

Gardeners should be aware of cross-pollinating issues, and should not plant any hot pepper near a bell or sweet pepper plant.

Cayennes like moist, but not soggy, soil. They should be planted in a container or bed with good drainage and can be mulched with straw or something similar. As a rule, peppers are hardy plants and the gardener can usually plant them in most climates with confidence.

The peppers are ripe when they are four to six inches long, feel firm and the stems come easily off the plant stalk. Cayennes may be green or red when mature.

Cayennes are versatile peppers. Since they are not as fiery as a habanero, nor as mild as a bell pepper, they are great for spicy dishes when only a medium heat level is desired. Peppers can be deprived of some of their heat if the cook will seed them and remove the inner rib and membrane. This is where the worst of the heat is.

Most people are familiar with the use of cayennes in Cajun and Mexican cooking. They can be used to spice up salsa, sauces and gumbos. However, there are many other uses for the versatile pepper. One little-known use is to cook a single whole pepper on top of a pot of vegetables. The pepper will add flavor, but not heat, and can be removed from the pot before the vegetables are eaten.

Cayennes can be added whole, or chopped, to most vegetable and sauce dishes. A single pepper will often add enough heat for a whole dish, depending on the tastes of those eating it.

Pickling is another popular way to prepare cayenne peppers. They will last for much longer when pickled, and will give any dish an extra tingle. In the Southeast, many people pickle a batch, put them in a glass shaker with vinegar and use the liquid to flavor cooked greens, like collards and mustard. When the liquid is used, the peppers still retain flavor, and the cook just pours in more white vinegar.

A cook can also dry cayenne peppers for cooking, or decoration. There are many ways to do this, but the simplest one is probably the Mexican rista. All the cook needs to do is get a sharp, sturdy needle and run heavy-duty thread through the stems of the peppers, until they form a spiral. The spiral is then hung in a dry place. The peppers may take a few weeks to dry this way, but they do retain more of their color.

A dehydrator can be used to dry peppers, of course, but it can also be done on a cookie sheet in the oven, with the temperature set as low as the oven will register. This is a much faster method, but there will be some color loss.

When the peppers are dried they can be used whole or ground. Grinding peppers is easy, and most people have the equipment to do it. A cook can use a coffee grinder to grind the peppers in small batches, or can use a mortar and pestle.

Some cooks crush dried peppers by placing them in a plastic bag and rolling them with a rolling pin, then crushing the bag in their hands.

Dried ground peppers are great for use in a shaker, where they can be used on pizza, pasta, refried beans, Spanish rice, or for stir-frying. The heat will last for months, and considering how many peppers most plants produce, they are a real bargain over buying the dried pepper in stores.

Dried cayennes, with their rich red color, are also wonderful in decorative wreaths and garlands.

Since they require so little room and care, cayennes are perfect for apartment dwellers with sunny balconies or a patio garden. Anyone who is willing to take care of a couple of plants can have a bumper crop of cayenne peppers.

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