Ghost Pepper is One Hot Mama

Ghost peppers flying with colorIn 2007, the Guiness Book of World Records wrote that Ghost peppers, Bhut Jolokia, are the hottest peppers in the world. On the Scoville Heat Index, Ghost peppers rate at about one million heat units, which averages approximately 300 times hotter than the hot Jalepeno pepper. If you ever try to eat one, you will find that the initial flavor is of a sweet, delicious chili pepper… that is… for the first few seconds. 20-30 seconds later, prepare for intense heat, heat so hot that it can negatively affect your health. I suggest only eating ghost peppers as part of a dish which incorporates the hot little peppers.

Ghost pepper flying on plantGhost peppers get their name from their shape. As you can see, they look like little spirits flying around on the plant. At night, the younger peppers seem to glow in the dark when any light shines on them. I am sure that the proximity of harvest time to October and the idea of Halloween doesn’t hurt in perpetuating the name! Some people say that they are called Little Ghosts is because the heat sneaks up on the person brave enough to eat one.

In recent years, the Ghost Pepper has lost its place as the hottest pepper in the world. The current Guiness World Record-holding chili pepper (as of 2013) is called, Carolina Reaper, and was bred by Ed Currie in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The Carolina Reaper, however, is a cross-bred plant between the Ghost Pepper and the Red Habenero pepper, so in essence the Ghost Pepper is Reaper’s mama.

GFhost Pepper red   The Ghost Pepper is hottest when it is young and still light green. As it matures, it turns into a number of beautiful colors ranging from orange to purple with red being the most prominent in the Indiana garden. It does take a long time to come to maturity, though, so unless you start your seeds indoors a couple of months before outdoor planting, I suggest that you purchase good-sized plants in order to ensure that you have a long enough growing season to benefit from harvesting some of these hot little peppers. It is now October, and I have harvested about 30 ghosts peppers from my one plant; however, there are at least 80-100 more flowers for the potential for many more peppers. When the first frost comes, however, the plants will quickly die unless protected, so I usually pick  the peppers when they are still young and let them ripen on a table in a dark, cool room which encourages the plant to produce more fruit.

I have some helpful hints for working with Ghost peppers: I never suggest that anyone simply eat a Ghost Pepper. I have found that just cutting them up in the house and cooking them  requires a fan and ventilation, because the gas they produce, alone, is so hot spicy that it can cause people to experience choking, wheezing, coughing, chest pains, and burning eyes. I make Ghost Pepper Salsa and Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce, neither of which I eat (I am a mild to medium salsa kind of girl), but my son loves them. I also ensure that I double up my nitrile gloves when working with them, because one set of gloves still allows for penetration of the hot, natural oils to get on my hands. Avoid getting the fresh oils on your skin, in your eyes, or on any mucous membrane, unless you want to feel serious pain for several hours (Believe me, it isn’t worth it!). Finally, if you like to dry your peppers and store them or grind them for future use, I suggest that you not do it in the house, because the fumes can be similar to someone throwing a pepper gas bomb into your home. it simply isn’t worth risking your health over it.

ghost pepper single

The Ghost Pepper is fun to grow and is a wonderful conversation starter for the home gardener. Using it can be hazardous to the health of your family, though. Like any other thrill-seeking activity, do it with care and safety in mind, because this little Ghost Pepper is one hot Mama.

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Tomatoes: Stage 52 and Beyond

Sink Full of Tomatoes

For the past few weeks, I have been very busy. The new semester started at the school I teach for, I have been working on my dissertation, I planted my Fall plants, and my tomatoes came into their harvest period! That means that my weekends have been filled with lesson-planning and tomato processing. I thought I would share some of this year’s wonderful tomato adventures with you.

Once or twice per week, I pick a double sink full of beautiful tomatoes. The first few weeks are always devoted to making my delicious Italian pasta sauce. My goal is to always can a minimum of 52 quarts, so my family can have enough to eat pasta dishes, once per week all year. So far, this year, I have 68 quarts finished and may make more to give as gifts and share wth family.

Once the pasta sauce reaches “Stage 52,” as I call it, I start canning other products that my family uses throughout the year. I usually make some soup and salsas, as well as a few other things; however, this year, I planted a couple of hybrid tomato types which are touted as offering much larger Roma-style tomatoes than the standard Roma. That equates to much more tomato pulp available to use.

Supersauce versus Roma

The tomatoes in the photo, from left to right, are Super Sauce, Roma, Super Sauce, and Big Mama. The Big Mama tomatoes turned out to be 2-3 times the size of the Romas, but this year due to a very rainy early season, they suffered from blossom end rot which ruined approximately half of the crop. The Super Sauce tomatoes, however, thrived, this year. As you can see, the typical Super Sauce can be 10-20 times the size of a typical Roma. I even had one weigh in at 3.5 pounds! I think that would be heavy weight class.

What does that mean for me? It means less work: fewer tomatoes to blanch and peel, fewer tomatoes to remove seeds and liquid from, and more meat available to work with per fruit. In addition, they taste really good.

I grew all of my Super Sauce tomato plants from seed. The tomatoes came ripened only two weeks after the 8-inch tall tomato plants that I bought at the store and planted. The seed-started plants were also stronger, more vigorous, and highly productive. It turns out that in the same amount of space, I was able to get much more usable tomato from Super Sauce than the other Roma-style plants that I planted. I will definitely be planting Super Sauce, again!

So what have I done with all of that tomato? So far I have 68 quarts of pasta sauce, 13 pints of stewed tomatoes, 10 pints of stewed tomatoes with green chilis, 15 pint and a half jars of honey barbeque sauce, 18 jars of 4-alarm super hot salsa, 15 jars of mild salsa, 8 jars of medium salsa, a dozen jars of tomato-basil soup, and two quarts of tomato soup base (for vegetable-beef soup). This weekend, I am making and canning hot sauces, chili, and dried Italian tomato slices.

I predict 3-4 more weeks of sauce-style tomato canning, since all of my plants have started producing another abundance of fruit. Did I say that none of this has anything to do with my table tomatoes? Yes, it is true: We get to eat sliced, diced, or wedged fresh tomatoes, every day, as well. Well, that’s anbother story!

mmmmm mmmmm mmmmm It’s all so yummy: Tomato goodness, all year long.

 

harvest

This past week, I attended the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) Leadership Education Academy (LEA). It was an amazing event, a cross between a conference and a work development program, created specifically for leadership educators. I met some creative, inspiring leadership professors, people who teach leadership skills to youth and young adults, and leadership professionals who teach within their organizations. The staff, all leadership professors, was fantastic, and the content of knowledge we learned is extremely helpful. You know… It was information that I will use, and use often in my career. I was so inspired and leadership focused… until I got home.

As you can imagine, in Indiana, the most important time of the harvesting season starts mid-July and runs throughSeptember, or even October… and even sometimes into November, if the weather holds out! I made sure that I had harvested everything available the day before I left for Denver.

I was gone for five days, and I was shocked at what needed to be done to get the garden caught up. As you can see, I had a boatload of green beans and peppers, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and blackberries to harvest. Before taking that photo, I gave away two dozen peppers, a dozen tomatoes, and six cucumbers, and I cooked down enough blackberries to freeze two gallons of juice. I also set a few dozen tomatoes on my ripening table that you don’t see here. It never seems like so much is ready when I work on it, every day, but skip a week, and WOW!

Now, it’s time to decide what to do with it all. Wednesday, I will be teaching a certification class in YOUTH Mental Health First Aid, so I will be able to serve some of the peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes with our lunch. I have a boatload of kale ready to be harvested, too, so I will also take some of it to the class. I have been pickling sweet yellow and banana peppers, lately, and I have enough for a year’s worth of my family’s use. I recently saw a recipe for sweet and hot peppers which I might try, though, and I will start canning my jalapeno peppers, since they started producing. The red Cayenne peppers will be dried and used by my son on all kinds of yummy (and spicy) foods.

The tomatoes that I grew from plants are ripening, nicely, but they are mostly table tomatoes. Since my family eats a lot of fresh tomatoes, we are using them up or giving them away to friends and family. My parents could eat fresh tomatoes, especially the german- or beefsteak-style tomatoes, at every meal, so yes, they get used up, quickly. I also like to make some of the extras into stewed tomatoes or salsas.

The tomatoes that I planted from seed are a week or so behind the other tomato plants, even though they were planted at least six weeks after the others. They are they types that I turn into pasta sauce, salsa, and soups. They have very little liquid and very few seeds, so they are easy to process and have lots of meaty flesh to use. The breeds I planted were a Roma-style called “Big Mama” and “Super Sauce.”

Super Sauce is, by far, my favorite saucing tomato, because it is huge (up to 2.5 pounds each) and tasty, which make less work for me. I have made tomato sauce that fits in one quart-sized jar with just two Super Sauce tomatoes! The ones in the garden are so big on some plants that the stems started bending over, because the plant couldn’t hold them up without help. As you can imagine, I have been outside tying the heavier stems up on the stakes I use to support the plants.

Well, I guess I need to stop gushing about this harvest, because I need to go can some green beans! I have a lot to do. Anyway.. I wish you Happy Harvesting and Preserving!