Thursday, September 3, 2009

Make a Hot Pepper Ristra for Good Luck!

Chile Pepper Ristra
Ideal for air drying Hot Peppers

Mexican folklore says that hanging a Ristra on your door or in your home brings good luck! As you harvest your hot peppers, now is a good time to think about stringing together those with thin skins into a Mexican 'Ristra' to air dry. You can easily do this with a large needle and thread to connect the peppers. They can simply hang together in a long line, or the ends can be attached to form a wreath shape.
There are many ways to preserve your pepper harvest besides Ristras. Peppers can be preserved by pickling, made into hot sauce, jelly, canned or blanched and frozen. However, one of the simplest ways is to air dry hot peppers in a Ristra.

Air Drying
Air drying is an easy way to dry hot peppers, especially if they have thin skins. Pequin, a tiny, round Chiltepin (Capisicum annum var. aviculare, 'bird pepper') hot pepper, is one of my absolute favorites. Chiltepin's don't even need to be strung on a Ristra though, they can simply air dry on a plate or sheet pan. My favorite Rista peppers are usually long, thin cayenne or Thai peppers. Remember, thin skinned peppers work the best for air drying.
Pepper Skins, thin or thick?
If your peppers have thick skins such as Tomato Grower's large red thick cayenne or any brand Jalapeno pepper, they will not work well in a Ristra. After several days, the moisture trapped within thick skinned peppers will contribute to mold inside the peppers, making them unsuitable for culinary use. I find many hybrids have skins too thick to air dry, even if I poke a few pin holes in them. They are all different though; for example, Burpee's long thin slim red cayenne peppers dry well, and so does Tomato Grower's Kung Pao hybrid. Both have thin walls for easy drying on a Ristra.
  • Please post a comment if you have a favorite pepper that works well for Ristra air drying
If your peppers are thick skinned, one way to avoid mold forming inside the peppers is to cut them in half lengthwise using culinary shears. This will permit optimal air circulation. Allow the pile of cut peppers to dry on a large plate or sheet pan and stir them around every few days. When they are thoroughly dry, they can be stored in airtight containers. Obviously, after the peppers are cut in half they can't be used in a Ristra, but they will still be a tasty seasoning for your foods throughout the year.
If your not sure if your peppers have thin or thick skins, let a few air dry on a plate for a week or two then cut one open, if it appears moldy inside, discard the moldy ones and from then on your best bet is to start cutting that variety open to air dry, and preserve them by another means.

Ristra Home Decor
In addition to being useful and functional, Ristras store dried peppers in an artistic, decorative way that looks great hanging in your home. Ristras make appreciated and thoughtful gifts from your garden too. Store bought Ristras, unless stated otherwise, may have been shellacked or varnished and should not be used for culinary purposes. For the safest and best Ristra, make your own!
Ristra Strings
The Ristra is just a bunch of hot peppers attached together by a thread, string, or fish line.
I use a large needle and thread and simply string the needle with the thread, making a knot at the beginning (and again at the end). Then string together the peppers, pushing them together to close up any gaps.
  • Ristras can be all sizes and shapes. I tend to use the simplest method and allow them to hang straight down, but as I mentioned you can connect the ends and make a wreath too.
  • Ristras can hang to dry outside under an overhang, from a pot rack in your kitchen, or in any dry area.
Don't leave your Ristra hanging forever!
Ristras look great hanging in the kitchen; however,don't get too attached and let it hang up there for years to collect dust. Especially since the peppers are the real deal and not fake. A good rule of thumb is to use the peppers as you need them throughout the off season, and then before the new harvest, take what is left down and store the leftover peppers in an airtight container.

Related Links
Chile Ristras Brighten Border Homes
by Doug Perez and Martha A. Sandoval, El Paso Community College
Cluster Braid and Red Chile Sauce Recipe by Priscilla Grijalva, New Mexico State University Extension

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