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Garden Lifestyle

Hot Things Come in Little Packages

Casabella peppers are small in size, but big on heat. Here’s one way to tame them.

  • Casabella peppers start out as small, yellow peppers and then ripen to a brilliant red.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
  • These Casabella peppers were too hot to eat raw, so they were dried and crushed into pepper flakes to use on pizza.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

I’m thinking of making labels to slap on the jars of freshly-crushed pepper flakes I have sitting on the kitchen counter. The labels would read: “Danger! Use with extreme caution!”

Casabella was just one of the pepper varieties I grew in containers on my patio this summer. The plant produced cute, yellow peppers that belied the level of heat hiding inside each one.

We love spicy-hot food around here, but these babies were just too hot to eat raw. A teeny-tiny bite from the very tip of the pepper was cause to sound the alarm. Nothing could douse the flames, either.

As if to taunt me, the Casabella produced more peppers than all the other pepper plants combined. More peppers than the jalapeno plants, more than the paprika, and many more than the ‘Holy Mole’. Long after the other plants stopped flowering, the Casabella kept on producing its fiery little peppers.

As each pepper ripened to a brilliant red, I’d pick it and place it on the drying screen. By the end of summer, I had a nice batch of dried chile peppers, but I was afraid to use them in my cooking. I couldn’t be sure of how much heat they’d add to a dish.

Then I decided to crush the little devils into pepper flakes to use on pizza. I figured a pinch or two would be plenty to add a little “interest” to any pie.

I waited until the peppers were crunchy-dry, removed the stems, and placed a few at a time in my spice grinder. Instead of grinding them to a fine powder, I pulsed the grinder for a second or two until the peppers looked like flakes and the seeds were still whole. Grinding too long would have turned the flakes into a dangerous chili powder.

I’ll store the crushed pepper in well-labeled jars in a cool, dark place. At a few pinches per use, this may turn out to be the most cost-effective pepper I’ve ever grown.

As the night-time temperatures started to drop into the 30s, I noticed the Casabella was still in full bloom. Because dozens of white blossoms covered the plant I decided to bring the container indoors, place it in a sunny southern window, and see if it will produce more peppers.

I’m just not sure what will happen if it does.

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