Garden Lifestyle

Chile Pepper Season

Just before it frosted in my Maryland zone 7 garden, we harvested all of the chiles that were mature--and some that were still green.

  • Here's what's happening in my kitchen! Chile harvest season is upon us--make vinegars, sauces, salsas, pickled peppers and dry them too! Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • This vinegar is infusing rocoto peppers, summer savory and fresh garlic. The canning jars contain red chile ferments, which will eventually become hot sauces.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Peppers are harvested and sorted by cultivars and used accordingly. The bowl in the front is full of the oval-shaped fruits of the rocoto pepper which are both sweet and pungent.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Rocotos are one of my favorites from this season. They have rather thick flesh--and they are the only chile that I know of which contain black seeds. I saved and dried them to grow next year and share with friends.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Tabasco peppers will be fermented to make hot sauce.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Serrano and jalapeno peppers are sliced for pickling, after removing their stems. If you prefer less heat remove all or some of the seeds.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Hot pickled peppers are ready to be stored in the pantry and to give as gifts. Summer and a fiesta in a jar!
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Capsicum chinensis include scotch bonnets (large-yellow orange peppers), regular habaneros (smaller orange peppers) and mustard habaneros (darker yellow-green peppers with pointed ends)--all of these are extremely hot.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • I use habaneros, fatali peppers (as pictured here infusing in organic apple cider vinegar), fish peppers and rocotos to make hot pepper shrub.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Mature, red and yellow chiles can be oven-dried. Once completely dry store in labeled, glass jars.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Hot off the presses: The Chile Pepper Calendar by Susan Belsinger!
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Back cover of the Chile Pepper Calender features the photos for all 12 months of the year!
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Just before it frosted in my Maryland zone 7 garden, we harvested all of the chiles that were mature–and some that were still green. Many chiles were snipped from the plants into buckets, however, some plants covered with small chiles were just pulled up by the roots and hung to dry. Been processing them by various methods and have saved some out in the refrigerator to bring to the IHA Conference in Florida next week for “Spice it Up!”

This is the time of year to celebrate chiles–consume them in great quantities–and put them up for the cold weather ahead. Once the chiles are harvested, there are many ways to preserve them. First, I save out a large quantity and refrigerate them so that I have them to eat fresh daily. Next, the ripest red, mature chiles are divided up for making red pepper jelly, for vinegars and shrubs and for fermenting to make hot sauce and then a large number are dried.

Dried red chiles will eventually be rehydrated in a pot of beans or tortilla soup, or they will be ground and made into red chile powder which will be used in making red chile sauce, in beans and all sorts of southwestern dishes from soups to desserts, and combined with other herbs and spices to make chili powder. I dry the red chiles in the oven on the very lowest temperature possible, or with just the oven light turned on–which takes from 2 to 4 days depending on the chiles. (I only wish that I could capture and store the heavenly aroma of slow-drying red chiles in the oven–it causes me to salivate for days on end!) Once completely dried they are stored in labeled glass jars in the pantry. Smaller chiles are strung on wire and hung near the woodstove to dry.

Of course, hot green chiles like serranos and jalapenos, as well as hot banana peppers, will be sliced and pickled and processed. Both red and green chile peppers will be made into salsa–some fermented–and more canned since there is only so much room in the refrigerator for fermented foods. New Mexico cultivars, Anaheims, and poblanos are roasted on the grill and consumed or frozen.

Next week, I will be traveling to Florida for the annual International Herb Association Conference. ( This year’s conference is all about peppers–both hot and sweet. We’re getting ready for next year since Capsicum is Herb of the Year for 2016. There are two days of seminars, classes and demos presented by herbalists from across the nation highlighting these time-honored pods. I will be doing a demo on “Chiles and Chocolate” featuring both savory and sweet recipes that will be sure to titillate your tastebuds!

Hot! Hot! Hot! Press Release for my latest publication:

Explore the wonderful world of chiles each month of 2016 with The Chile Pepper Calendar. Fire up any wall in the house with brilliant photographs; quench burning curiosity with information for choosing pepper varieties from mild to wild, get tips for sowing & growing your own; when to harvest & how to preserve your chile peppers; and find out the health benefits & medicinal virtues of these esteemed pods. Each month features a chile-infused recipe from roasting chiles and easy homemade salsa to cabbage slaw and hot pepper shrub. Aficionados rejoice and celebrate Capsicum, Herb of the Year 2016!

The calendars will be for sale at the conference and they are also available on my website and They make wonderful holiday gifts–be sure to get some for your favorite gardeners; supplies are limited. Eco-friendly, printed in the U.S.A.; no shrink wrap to go in the landfill.

I grew about 25 or so different cultivars of chile peppers this summer–some old favorites–and a few newbies. Two new favorites that I will grow again are the black-seeded rocoto, which has thick red flesh which is sweet and hot (seeds were a gift from a friend of mine, Carolyn Dille and I have saved the seeds) and the mustard habanero, which is a very large Capsicum chinensis that is quite hot, yet has a lovely fruity fragrance and flavor. I encourage you chileheads to seek them out!


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