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My last chili experiment was some 5 years ago, when the dried results started to use up. So I went to buy 2 chili plants (habanero & jalapeno, both F1 hybrids) this European spring - and the results are overwhelming: I have some 15-20 Jalapeno fruits and 30-40 Habaneros still on the plants, all ripe as far as I can tell. This is far more than I expected or can use now, so my questions are:

  • Should I harvest them now?
  • If I don't, will they start to rot?
  • If I harvest them all, what's the best way to store them?

Apparently I prefer drying them up and making chili powder, but I can't remember how I dried them without them starting to rot.

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Wow - so many great answers! As I can't accept all of them technically, I'll mark Kate's answer as it was the first one. –  domsom Nov 13 '12 at 11:08
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7 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Harvest them before they freeze, or the resulting mushiness will ruin everything and they will rot. Jalapenos are picked green - if you leave them on the plant they will turn red, which isn't bad, just unexpected.

I llke to pickle jalapenos. I add a little turmeric and onion flakes to hot vinegar, use a cold pack technique, and process them well. The resulting "pickled peppers" I slice and use on nachos and the like.

Most chilis are happy to dry as long as they are somewhere warm and dry. A dehydrator will make it even easier. I've dehydrated hot red peppers and it worked wonderfully. I've never tried drying Jalapenos, because I like them pickled, but I wouldn't expect trouble if I were to try it.

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Why are ripe jalapenos unexpected? –  baka Nov 12 '12 at 16:44
    
When you buy jalapenos in the supermarket, or order something in a restaurant that contains jalapenos, they are almost always green. That makes red ones unexpected, at least to me. –  Kate Gregory Nov 12 '12 at 16:49
    
Ah. I expect them ripe when growing my own, as picking them ripe is a big advantage over store bought fruit. –  baka Nov 12 '12 at 16:56
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Pick them as soon as they are as ripe as you want them. They won't get any bigger, and too many fruit will restrict the formation of more fruit.

If you live in a dry climate, then @Brian's suggestion of hanging them up is definitely the way forward, and is very traditional in places like New Mexico. @Kate's dehydrator should work in a humid climate, but most of us don't have dehydrators, so you can use an oven on the lowest setting. As I usually freeze peppers over a month or two to get enough (a lot of peppers do not make very much powder), drying in an oven is probably the only option.

For drying peppers in the oven (I've done cherry bomb, jalapeno, and paprika in the past; this year it will be cayenne), I cut them in half and lay on a baking sheet. Then turn over periodically. Repeat until they are crisp and all mushiness has gone. With jalapenos, your house will fill with that wonderful fruity flavour that jalapenos have hiding under the heat.

A word of warning: when cutting thawed hot peppers, the capsaicin might thermally sensitize your hands more than with raw peppers. This happened with the cherry bombs. I will be wearing gloves when it comes to the cayennes.

You will need a lot of fruit to make a small amount of powder. Also, you don't need a fancy spice grinder - just use a dedicated coffee grinder. Fraction of the price, works just as well - just don't mix it up with your existing coffee grinder!

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I dry my peppers by stringing them up with a needle and thread and then I hang them in the opening between our kitchen and porch which has a wood burning stove in it. After a couple weeks the peppers are dry enough to store in bags or jars. I've done this with Thai Chilies and Tabasco Peppers.

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I live in Delaware and have already harvested my jalapeno and chili peppers. If you do nothing but leave them on the dining room table, some of the green peppers will ripen to red, some will dry out (get wrinkly, but remain edible), and many will start rotting or growing mold.

You can freeze them whole or sliced, but I prefer drying. I dry the chili peppers whole, only cutting off the stems. (They're too small to handle.)

The jalapenos, I cut in half and remove the seeds, which is optional.

In both cases, I place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and "roast" them at low heat (my oven's lowest temp is 170) for 20 mins to an hour, then turn off the oven and let them dry overnight or over 36 hours -- until they are completely dried out. For fleshier fruit, I turn the oven back on after a few hours -- alternating to keep the oven dry.

Last year I ground them in a coffee grinder, but I won't do that this year -- I'll just store them in a glass jar and crush what I need when I need it. If you grind, consider wearing gloves, goggles, and a dust mask.

Another way to use fleshy hot peppers fresh or thawed is to press them in a garlic press, cut into press-size pieces and place them in the press skin side up -- it's like mincing, and you don't lose the juices.

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Thanks @Paula, I'll definitively give the garlic press idea a try! –  domsom Nov 15 '12 at 9:33
    
Enjoy! Just be careful of your eyes when you squeeze, and of rubbing your eyes anytime after you've touched hot peppers. BTW, I'm roasting jalapenos now, and will probably keep the oven on low for 12 hours (rather than turning it off and on), just to make it go faster. –  Paula Nov 16 '12 at 5:14
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Appallingly, I've just harvested a chilli plant I let dry out and die, and then left for so long that the chillies simply dried out on the plant!

Not an ideal approach, and only of any use if you aren't hoping to get a second year from your plant, but it was a very low effort way to preserve them!

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As others have said - pick them before a frost/cold.

I make hot sauce with the peppers and I also I slice my habaneros and freeze them in baggies.

You can cover the plants with a low tunnel/low hoop house to extend the season a little bit.

I have also dug up a plant or two and brought it into my sun porch to extend the season.

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Chilis are best harvested before they have fully ripened. Else, the mush could destroy the entire plant. As for storage purposes, simply use an everyday container like a glass jar or plastic box that you find in your kitchen and ensure it is airtight and moisture-free. I heard that some people actually wrap their chilis in newspaper to absorb the moisture before storing in the fridge.

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