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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Growing, Harvesting and Drying Hot Cayenne Peppers: Red Pepper Flakes for Pasta!

Growing, Harvesting and Drying Hot Cayenne Peppers: Red Pepper Flakes for Pasta!

A pepper that is very easy to grow is the hot 'Cayenne' pepper. There is a sweet version with no heat. I grow the hot cayenne specifically for making red pepper flakes for my pastas. I live in Maryland Zone 7 and transplant my plants late May into my earth beds and container gardens. I typically harvest the peppers in late August or early September when they are a brilliant red and start drying a bit on the plant. I believe harvesting them this way improves their flavor!

The Finished Product - Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Peppers need warm days and nights to really start growing. If you plant them too early, frost will kill them and if you put them in past the frost date but when it is still cool... they will just sit. They prefer 60+ degree nights and 80 degrees days to really start growing. Warmer night bring faster growth. Late May is a good time to get them in ground in my area. I recommend using transplants you either start yourself indoors about 8 weeks before they would go into the ground or you can by transplants locally.

Cayenne Peppers Oven Dried and Ready to be Crushed 

If you don't have room to grow them in the ground you can grow them in containers. I recommend a 5 gallon container but they can also be grown in 2 1/2 gallon containers like in the video. The key to healthy container peppers is never letting the soil fully dry out and liquid feedings about every two weeks with a balance fertilizer or one with a lower nitrogen number. Too much nitrogen gets you a lot of leaf growth.

Over time I found letting them dry a bit on the plant adds flavor. They will go from being a firm plump red pepper that is hard to bend to a slightly wrinkled red pepper that is pliable. Don't let them over dry on the plant but just wrinkle a bit. This is typically around  90 days after transplanting. You may get several harvests too depending on the area in which you grow. Here is a video that shows you my recent September harvest and how the peppers look before picking. I also quickly go over the drying process. Drying time will vary.

One of the great things about gardening is you continually learn. Here is my first video on picking and drying hot cayenne peppers from 2 or 3 years ago. It is essentially the same but I did change a few things. I now let them dry a bit on the plant. And I don't take the tops off when they go in the oven. I think my new method keeps a bit more flavor within the peppers. However, nothing is exact and this video shows you how to dry fully plump cayenne peppers which really means instead of 5 hours drying time it will take you nearly 7 hours. And that makes sense as there is less moisture in wrinkled pliable cayenne peppers you take off the plants... but more flavor!

And finally... store them in an air tight container. You don't want the humidity of the days to seep back into your dried peppers. Keep the crisp. When you use them they will absorb the flavors of the pasta sauces you use. Good luck and enjoy!

Two Ways to Store Your Dried Cayenne Peppers

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