With the weather turning and the chilli plants starting to look a little ragged, it was time to bring in the crop. They do not seem to suffer nearly as much from grey mould as the tomatoes, but leaving them too long in the increasingly damp conditions of the glasshouse at this time of year is asking for trouble. We have been using them fresh for some time now, but the bulk of the crop needed to be harvested and stored for use over the coming year. Fortunately, chillies freeze very well indeed – they do not appear to suffer unduly from the process, and their fruity and spicy flavours do not seem much harmed by the process. I am not usually fond of freezing, preferring fresh produce, but chillies are one of a few exceptions. The majority, then, were simply bagged up and frozen whole. Whilst they could be processed in some way, I rather suspect that they do best when left whole. They can be used straight from the freezer as needed.
I grow a wide variety of chillies, and 44 plants in total. These completely take over the smallest glasshouse after the spring propagation rush is over. Of the 44 plants, 20 are Hungarian Hot Wax, which I grow in such quantity for pickling. It might sound like a lot, but the pickled chillies are delicious and so do not last long. Of the others, there is a diverse mixture of heat levels, sizes, shapes, and colours, including some suitable for making paprika. The latter need to be dried. Although one could simply string them up and leave in a warm spot, our climate is not ideal for drying and so a little help may be beneficial. There are, of course, dehydrators that can be bought for food preservation. Essentially, these are small cabinets with mesh or similar shelving on which various fruits and vegetables can be arrayed, with a small heating element and most likely one or more fans to distribute the warm air. A homemade version could be put together fairly easily, and this is a project I have in mind for a rainy day. It could be used for a wide range of produce, from apples and pears to chillies and tomatoes. A very low oven, perhaps with the door ajar, could also be used, but this does not seem such an economical proposition.
In the absence of any special contraption, we arranged four old oven shelves on top of our radiators, each held in place with a brick, and arrayed the fruit such that they are within the warm air but not touching the top of the radiator. I made the mistake last year of placing them directly on the top grill of the radiators. Some dried very well indeed, but others effectively cooked and were ruined, depending on how hot the individual radiator became. This year’s impromptu solution seems to be drying the chillies slowly by effectively. They need to be moved around and turned over from time to time and will stay there until completely dried. It is worth checking regularly for the development of any moulds and discarding any that show signs of decay. When properly dried they can be stored in airtight jars, and ground up for use as paprika or chilli powder, depending on the heat level.
I harvested the Hungarian Hot Wax some weeks ago for pickling. At the time I noted that they often provide a second flush of fruit, yet I was not sure whether there would be time this year, after the slow start to the season. However, the embryonic fruits that were left on the plants have put on remarkable growth and it seems most likely that a second round of pickling may be taking place in a couple of weeks’ time.