Regular readers will know that one of my abiding themes is the preservation of freshly grown gluts of crops. I love a loaded larder. Loaded Larder. Even the sound of it makes me happy.
This year has been the year of the chilli. I planted loads last year, seeds from my brother’s garden from the year before that. Most of them failed to launch, so I bought a habanero plant (Unknowing fool! I know now that it’s the second hottest chilli in the world, but I didn’t when I was standing in the garden centre, oh no.) This has resulted in harissas, chilli jams and pickles that to my palate are barely edible unless eaten in homeopathic quantities, and a freezer full of napalm globes to be used under extreme caution.
This year, therefore, I determined not to plant any chilli plants. To my surprise however, one of the Black Knight chillies popped up out of the ground, unannounced, from seeds planted the year before. Never one to knock natural selection, I let it be, and it has born fruit constantly these past 6 months. It’s 2 weeks before winter here, and by god it’s still going. Cue another round of chilli pickles, chutneys, and preserves generally, happy colleagues at work who have shared in the bounty, and – you guessed it, bags and bags of frozen ones. I now have more chillies in the tiny freezer than any other ingredient.
So, I cashed in some frequent flyer points for a department store voucher, and I bought a dehydrator. I’d been thinking about giving it a go for a while anyway, and the continuing chilli bonanza taking up my freezer made me think it’d be a nicer way to preserve food than either freezing or being on a constant round of chutney making. There is after all, only so much chutney a girl can eat. Plus, I can’t make chutney any more without Eddie Izzard’s sketch on a loop in my head – the earwigs “making chutney all day”…well, maybe you had to be there.
Anyway. The dehydrator’s first use wasn’t an unmitigated success – I ran it for 14 hours and the food didn’t seem dry to me – but I’ve experimented and (I know this should be obvious, but sometimes I can be terribly dense) cutting the food to be dried into little pieces makes it dry faster. Like, wowser. Took me 2 goes to work that one out, folks. And they let me drive a car and manage my own finances and everything. Sigh. So, I picked a round of ripened chillies, split them in two and de-seeded them, to make them slightly less hot, and layered them on the drying racks: Just cutting into them liberated enough capsacin to tickle my nose and make me cough! The number of seeds was slightly shocking; this was just half the batch: After 5 hours…. Dried chillies, ready for storage!