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Peppers are highly adaptable plants that have been molded by selection to suit the culinary needs and growing conditions of many different cultures around the world. Modern plant breeders have further modified many of the more popular varieties, some to the point that they are hardly recognizable by members of the cultures from which they emerged. The result is an amazing array of different flavors, shapes and sizes of hot peppers.
At The Tree Farm we raise more than 25 different varieties selected from more than 15 different kinds of hot peppers. These peppers range from barely spicy to just plain hot! They range from about 1/2 inch to 10 inches in length. Some are blocky, others long and slender. Some mature in late July, others require more time, and ripen in September.
Picking hot peppers is easy. The trick is in knowing which peppers to pick. For best quality, hot peppers should feel firm, and be full size for the variety being picked.
Peppers don't develop their full flavor until after they reach full size. Most hot peppers are a green color while the fruit is growing. (Some are yellow, others purple at this stage). They then darken to a stage called "green ripe", which is often the hottest stage of hot pepper maturity. "Green ripe" peppers can be recognized because they are firm and full sized for their variety. As the seeds ripen, the pod usually turns red or orange and the flavor mellows. Of course, this all varies from variety to variety.
Many Americans associate hot peppers with Mexico. Some further equate Mexican hot peppers to the ever popular jalapeno. We raise several types of peppers that originated in Mexico and elsewhere in the Caribbean basin. These include poblano/ancho, Anaheim, cherry hot, finger hot (hot chile), habenero, jalapeno, mariachi and serrano. Jalapenos and mariachis are usually available by the first of August. Finger hot and cherry hot usually ripen early in August; poblano/ancho, Anaheim and serrano late in that month. Habeneros only ripen in September in our climate.
Other kinds of hot peppers have been selected to meet the needs for various European cuisines. The European types we raise are Hungarian wax (yellow banana), Portuguese, and Greek and Italian pepperoncini. Portugese and Hungarian wax types are among the earliest varieties we raise, and are usually available at the green ripe stage in late July. Pepperoncini are normally available by mid August.
Many kinds of peppers have been selected to fit the Asian taste, particularly in southern Asia. At The Tree Farm we raise cayenne peppers, the traditional peppers for drying in many parts of Asia, and five varieties from Laos and Thailand. The very hot Lao peppers begin to ripen to orange in early August. The slightly milder purple Lao peppers and other Asian types are available by late August.
If you have a tender tongue, but like just a little spice in your food, consider anaheims, pablanos and Italian pepperoncini. These are relatively mild peppers. Anaheims are great for chile rellenos (Peppers roasted, peeled, seeded, stuffed with cheese and cooked in an egg batter.) They are our pepper of choice for making a mild salsa. They also do well in salads and sandwiches. Substituting anaheims for sweet peppers in some hot dishes and casseroles adds a very pleasant, but not overbearing flavor. Anaheims freeze very well, and can be used for cooking all winter straight out of the freezer. Expect anaheims to vary somewhat from one to the next in the amount of "heat" in the pepper. In some seasons, mature or nearly mature anaheims have very tough skins. This is probably why the peppers are normally roasted and peeled to make chili rellenos. Mild pablanos are also good in chili rellenos. The very mild Italian pepperoncini provide a very nice flavor addition to salads, sandwiches or in other uses where just a little more spice than a bell pepper is desired. Perhaps their most common use is for pickling. They make a wonderful mild pickled pepper.
Conventional wisdom says habeneros are the hottest pepper in the world. We suspect some of the Asian peppers are just as hot. Many of our Asian customers prefer peppers from south Asia. These people like things firey hot, but refer to habeneros as "ugly hot". Different kinds of extremely hot peppers really do have different flavors -- and they all pack plenty of heat!
If you like stir fries, consider the Asian types of peppers. We raise a purple podded pepper that was given to us as a "mild" Laotian pepper. Compared to other peppers from that region it is indeed mild. One pepper in a large stir fry is about enough for a gently spicy meal for us. Cayenne, Thai and Lao hot peppers move rapidly up the spicy scale. The Asian peppers dry easily and can be stored dry for use from the time between killing frost and next years' crop. We find the various hot Asian types excellent for flavoring dill pickles and dilly beans. The best person to ask how to use this kind of pepper is someone who grew up in the cooking tradition of south China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos or south India.
Our favorite salsa recipe uses anaheim and jalapeno peppers. We adjust the amount of "heat" by the number of jalapenos in the mix. Salsa made with all jalapenos will be quite hot. That made only from anaheims will be barely hot at all. A full range of flavors is available from this blend.
Those who want their chili rellenos really hot use Hungarian wax peppers. Mariachis are a little less spicy, but still too much for most of us. For mildly spicy chili rellenos use anaheims or poblanos.
There are, of course, many different recipes for pickled peppers. Many people have their personal favorites. One of the fun things about making your own pickles is that they are your own, what you really like. But it takes time, effort and often some experimentation to "get it just right". (Maybe that's why grandma makes such good pickles. She has had many years to perfect her recipes.) Jalapenos, cherry hots, white fires and pepperoncini are all popular for pickling. After years of experimenting, we "Tree Farm people" have finally settled on pickled pepperoncini as our personal favorite. Karen prefers the milder pickled Italian pepperoncini; Chris's choice is the somewhat spicier Greek pepperoncini.
Wash peppers, slice in half lengthwise (optional), stuff in jars.
Brine Bring to boil:Pour brine over peppers and place lids on jars
1 cup white vinigar
2 cups water
1 Tablespoon pickling salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
Process 15 minutes
The Tree Farm
The Pick Your Own Vegetables Place
Cut your own Christmas Trees on December Weekends
8454 Highway 19
Cross Plains, WI 53528
Updated May 9, 2009
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