I admit it. I overplanted the cayenne peppers this summer. Who knew that growing just three of these hot pepper plants would yield hundreds—literally hundreds—of hot peppers? I planted both red and yellow cayenne varieties, and toward the end of the season, I also picked them green (before ripening) just to get them off the plants. Cayenne is one productive pepper!
In reality, it’s hard to use all those hot peppers in daily cooking, so preserving is key. After harvest a couple months ago, I made pepper jelly with some of them, made hot sauce with others and dehydrated the rest. And this weekend, the dehydrated peppers became the cutest holiday gifts: homegrown hot pepper flakes packaged in pepper-printed gift bags!
I love giving homemade food gifts because it’s giving people something they need and something they can use. That’s smart, green gifting. (Plus, everyone is super impressed when you grew the food!) My cayenne pepper flakes will be great for cozy winter recipes like chili and for holiday party recipes like cheese straws and spiced popcorn. Here’s how I made them. You can put your own spin on them too.
1. Dehydrate the peppers.
Wearing gloves to protect my hands from the hot pepper juices (once after chopping a bunch with bare hands, I wiped my cheeks and had a raw face for weeks), I carefully cut the top off each pepper and sliced each down the middle. Then, I placed them on the trays of my dehydrator and dried them for several hours. I didn’t discard the seeds or pulp (which is where the most heat lives).
I love my dehydrator. If you’re a vegetable gardener, you need one. Seriously, listen to me: You’ll love it! But, if you listen to nothing else, hear this: Do not dehydrate your hot peppers indoors. I learned this the hard way, nearly mace-ing my family out of our home. The capcaisin (chemical compound that makes peppers hot) goes airborne and the fumes can burn your eyes and nose. From now on, all my hot pepper dehydration happens in the garage, with the door open for airflow. The higher humidity may lengthen the dehydration time a bit, but my eyeballs are very appreciative.
I use my dehydrator to make tomato snacks and to dry herbs. You could also use your dehydrator this season to make gift bags of dried fruits.
2. Grind the peppers into flakes.
After drying the peppers, I bagged them up and left them in the spice cabinet. I’ve used a couple over the past few months for chili recipes or anything calling for crushed red pepper. (I have also rehydrated the peppers in hot water, then chopped them to use in recipes calling for chopped fresh cayenne.) But the rest were saved for this season of giving.
I ground the dried peppers in my food processor in batches, pulsing until the pieces could be considered flakes. Before starting this process, I tied a bandana around my nose. You think I’m kidding? Yes, I looked ridiculous, but peppers are serious business. Protecting my nose with the bandana prevented me from inhaling hot pepper dust that gets out of the food processor. I suggest you do the same!
3. Package the pepper flakes in plastic bags.
I then scooped the pepper flakes into little plastic bags. I used jewelry bags (available at craft stores). Normally meant for beads and such, the little 3- x 4-inch bags are the perfect size for giving dried peppers or dried herbs. I mean, who needs a pint-sized bag of crushed red pepper?
4. Make printed fabric gift bags.
In addition to growing things, I love making things. Printing, sewing, dyeing—these activities are how I spend my nights and weekends. So I carved a pepper block print, printed the block on unbleached muslin fabric, and sewed little gift bags for the pepper flakes.
5. Give the gift bags away!
Now, I have several gift bags of hot pepper flakes for stuffing in stocking and adorning gift boxes. It’s enough ground hot pepper that those who receive them should be using the gift all year long!