Compressing Peppers by Drying Them
Green peppers have been one of our most successful and early crops this year. I bought plants from a local store since the ones I grow myself invariably turn out very leggy. This year I decided to concentrate on four plants planted in our raised beds on the south side of a row of tomatoes. Since tomatoes and peppers do not require pollinators, they were in tents of mosquito netting to protect them(mostly) from caterpillars and stink bugs (see Growing Tomatoes in the South). Our first flush of peppers was very nice this year. These were the biggest from three plants shown with a coffee mug for size comparison.
We generally use our peppers in chili and other dishes where they can be reconstituted from a dry state. We washed and diced them, and spread them on screens on four drying racks of our 30 year old Harvest Maid food dryer. It took two runs to get the eight peppers dried. It takes about 8 hours at 135 degrees for each batch.
We store them in jars that we vacuum pack with the jar attachment on the FoodSaver. It takes about 2 tablespoons of the dried pepper to equal an average green pepper. The jars take up much less room and keep without refrigeration.
Last year we had serious problems with our tomato crop. The first tomatoes were nearly all destroyed by stink bugs and a sneak attack by tomato hornworms. We tried an experiment and managed to coax four of our not-so-determinate Rio Grande plum tomatoes into producing a second late crop. When the weather started threatening frost, we picked everything that looked like it was starting to change color and got quite a few to ripen indoors. They were not quite as good as vine-ripened but better than store-bought.
Our experiment was in buying a cot-sized mosquito net tent. This year we decided to grow 6 tomato plants split into two 4 by 8 foot beds and to cover each bed with mosquito netting. We grew Rio Grande tomatoes from seed since they had done better than our purchased Roma plants the year before. The tents let in much more sunlight than the picture makes it appear, especially down here in Alabama where sunscald can be a problem. The stink bugs we have spotted have all been crawling around on the outside of the netting and I only found two hornworms, probably from eggs laid before we got the netting up. We have picked over 20 pounds of tomatoes so far. The tomatoes are sharing space with 4 green peppers which are planted on the south side of the tomatoes. Both tomatoes and peppers can produce fruit with only the wind and an occasional shaking to spread pollen so the net does not affect the plant’s ability to set fruit.
We like to put up our tomatoes as frozen sauce. They could be canned and we have done so but for now we put them up in the freezer. For the first batch we put ten pounds of washed tomatoes through our Squeezo Strainer to take care of the seeds and peels. The Squeezo is over 35 years old but we can still find parts. So far only the rubber seal for the screen has needed to be replaced. The pulp came out nicely thick this year and two hours of simmering brought it down to a good consistency. We do not try to produce tomato paste. The time needed to produce a thick enough sauce can vary widely.
Our ten pounds of tomatoes produced four 20 ounce freezer jars of sauce. We use them in making spaghetti sauce and chili. We prefer the flavor we get from using our own frozen sauce.