Our pepper harvest is going very well; we're picking both sweet and hot peppers on a daily basis. This is exciting, as last year we didn't have nearly enough. My goal this year was to provide enough sweet peppers that we could freeze several batches of roasted slices, as well as eating many fresh, and giving some away. The goal with hot peppers was to have enough to make fermented hot sauce for our family Christmas gifts, as well as have plenty on hand for making salsa, freezing for winter, and eating fresh. So far I am well on track for meeting all these goals. So I thought I'd share what I did differently this year, and what I might change for next year, as well as our favorite varieties (so far!).
The clear winner for bell peppers is the variety Bullnose Bell. I bought these from Baker Creek seed, because I liked the history of them - they were grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and in fact still are grown there. In previous years, this variety was a good producer but the actual peppers were on the small side. This year, they are massive and beautifully colored. You can eat them green or wait until they are red. As you can see, I get anxious and can never wait until they are fully red. Since this variety is an heirloom, I can save the seeds for next year.
One thing that's great about bell peppers is that they are so easy to cut up, whereas the long thin peppers are a bit harder to prep, as you cannot avoid the seeds.
I really like the taste of the long, thin, bull's horn shaped sweet peppers (corno di toro), and in years past, we mostly grew Jimmy Nardellos to satisfy this craving. Those are great, and heirloom, but very small and thin. I wanted the same shape but bigger. I decided to try these hybrid peppers from Johnny's Selected Seed called Carmen. They are about 6" long, and quite a bit wider than the Jimmys. We've very much liked the taste and production of these peppers and will grow them again. Unfortunately, since they are hybrids, I cannot plant from saved seed, but will have to buy them again each year. The organic variety of Carmen is even more expensive, at over $5 for 25 seeds, but I think they are worth it. And actually, 25 seeds lasts me at least two years, if not more.
I also really like these Lipstick hybrid peppers from Johnny's. They are about 4" long, ripen beautifully, and are delicious roasted. Again, the only downside is that they are hybrid and I can't save the seed.
I tried many other hybrids from Johnny's such as Glow and Escamillo. They haven't done as well as the two listed above. Many of them have severe cases of blossom end rot. I will not plant those again.
As for hot peppers, I stuck with some tried-and-true varieties this year: Jalapeno, a classic, which we use for everything - salsa, fresh eating, freezing, and hot sauce; Maule's Red Hot, a prolific twisty pepper with nice heat which we mostly use for hot sauce; and Calabrese drying peppers, which I dry on cookie sheets outside in the sun and then keep for dried chili flakes. This year we also tried a mild Habenero, which hasn't come ripe yet, and Thai chilis, which are long and thin and which we have used green but not in their ripe yellow or red forms yet. All have done very well. I got all of these seeds from Renee's Garden except for the Calabrese, which I ordered from Seeds from Italy, and have saved every year since. These hot peppers are all heirlooms so can be grown from saved seed.
When I say that I 'freeze' Jalapenos, what I do is slice them into rounds, seeds and all, and freeze them in a mason jar. I do this mostly for Adam - he likes them on grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas. One small jar-full usually suffices, so we don't need a huge supply for this purpose. However, we use Jalapenos for so many different dishes that I grew two plants this year, and it's great to have an abundance.
We tend to eat sweet peppers only one way. I know, that's awfully boring of us, but it's the way we like them and so that's the way we always eat them, and that's as fajitas. I marinate a skirt or flank steak in lime juice, soy sauce, and olive oil (throw in a smashed garlic clove or two) and then we grill it. The peppers are roasted in olive oil and sea salt, usually in the oven. Sometimes we add caramelized shallots. The sliced steak and peppers are served in flour or corn tortillas with a generous helping of guacamole, and for some, homemade salsa. This is not a classic fajita, but it's the way we like it and we have it frequently. We do not eat this meal in winter, as peppers are not in season at that time. Not even in June; I know because we had a hankering and our peppers weren't near ready yet, so I checked both Whole Foods and Safeway. Both had organic red peppers, but they were both shipped in from the Netherlands, of all places. Not even Mexico. When we were in Washington state, I checked the local store for organic red peppers, and they were from Canada. Closer, but still! And conventional peppers were from even further away. Peppers are regularly on the 'dirty dozen' list for high-use pesticides, so organic in this case is best anyway. And local is even better! So, we don't eat peppers unless they are in season. Therefore, I always want extra to roast and freeze, enough to eat this meal once a month over the winter and spring. I have four pints frozen now, so that's enough for four meals. I hope to get twice that before our warm season is through. And I think I will! The sweet peppers listed above are still producing wonderfully.
What peppers are you growing and enjoying this year?