Taking the heat from a big pepper crop

This year and last, one of our best garden successes has been hot peppers. It’s doubtless due more to luck than skill, but we’ve grown bumper crops. It certainly helps that—unlike with, say, broccoli—each plant produces dozens of fruit; without using a lot of garden space, we can grow ourselves a year’s supply of peppers.

The question is how to preserve that tasty heat. In 2009, we tried for the first time a food dehydrator we’d had for years, drying out whole cayenne peppers as well as slices of bell peppers—the latter for tossing into soups and sauces.

Fringe benefit: A truly lovely smell that fills the house.

Dehydrating worked best on the cayennes, which are long and slim and don’t contain a lot of moisture to begin with. We use these whenever a recipe calls for “dried red pepper”—a frequent theme in Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking, one of our favorite cookbooks.

With banana and jalapeno peppers, we found the best thing to do is just throw them in the freezer. They took too long to dry in the dehydrator, and they’re quite easy to use when frozen. You just run them under warm water for a few seconds until they thaw enough to slice, then use them as if they were fresh.

This year, we’ve dehydrated many more cayennes (plus some Prairie Fires that a friend gave us from her garden). I like the convenience but not the energy footprint of the machine and would love to dry them using only sunlight. Has anyone done this? What’s your technique? I wonder if Virginia is too humid to pull it off.

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