Preserving Your Pepper, Eggplant and Okra Harvest
Peppers are a snap to freeze because they don't have to be blanched. Choose firm, crisp, red or green, thick-walled peppers. Wash, cut out the stem and remove the seeds. Cut peppers in halves, rings or strips, or dice them. Pack into freezer containers, leaving no headspace.
If you want to fit more peppers into each freezer container, blanch halves for 3 minutes, slices for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water, and drain well. Pack in freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
The most successful way to freeze eggplant is in precooked casseroles or sauces. But if you want to freeze plain eggplant, pick fruits when the skins are a dark color all over. Prepare enough for one blanching at a time and work quickly, because eggplant discolors. Wash, peel and slice 1/2-inch thick, or cut into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes.
Blanch 4 minutes in one gallon of boiling water with 1/2 cup lemon juice or 4 1/2 teaspoons citric acid. Cool, drain and place in freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Separate slices with sheets of freezer paper, then put into containers.
Use 2- to 31/2-inch-long green pods. Wash, trim stems but don't cut open pods. Blanch 3 minutes. Drain, cool quickly in cold water and drain again. Leave whole or slice. Pack in containers leaving 1/2-inch of headspace.
Because freezing and pickling work so well with peppers, eggplant and okra, canning isn't the preservation method of choice. If you want to can them, however, remember that peppers, eggplant and okra are low-acid vegetables, so they must be pressure canned, unless you make them into relish or pickle them.
Peppers are very easy to dry. For chili peppers, let the fruit turn red on the plant and harvest the entire plant in late summer. Hang the plants upside down in a dry location with good air circulation. Peppers dry well off the plants, too. Spread them on a screen and leave them in a dry place with good air circulation for several weeks, or spread them on a cookie sheet and dry in a barely warm oven. Cut blockier bell-type peppers into rings or small chunks before drying them.
Once dried, you can string peppers with a needle on strong thread. Hang the ropes of dried peppers where it's warm and dry. Pepper strings are great gifts and make a colorful addition to any kitchen.
The Spice Rack
To make your own hot pepper spices, remove the stems and seeds from dried peppers and grind them to the consistency you want. Store the ground peppers in airtight containers.
To make a spicy vinegar, combine 24 red chili peppers in a quart of distilled white vinegar and cover tightly. Shake the contents daily. After two weeks, strain the vinegar and place in a tightly corked jar. For a milder vinegar, use fewer peppers.