If there is one constant in gardening, it is that things are always transforming.  From the cycle of seed to seed, to the march of the seasons, there are countless changes taking place at any given time in the garden, and even after the harvest in the kitchen.  In the last several weeks, I have been gradually working on one of these transformations: I have been carefully processing the once shiny, candy apple red heirloom peppers I carefully strung to dry into a small jar of beautiful, spicy red pepper flakes that I am loving cooking with.

If you remember back to my post about drying whole chili peppers, I explained that the Polish Cyklon Peppers are specifically grown for spice use because they have such thin flesh.  And truly, they are perfect for drying. I had practically no problems with spoilage (just one pepper that looked like it might have had some internal damage to start with), even with our Minnesota humidity that extended the drying time to just around 3 weeks.

To process the whole dried chili peppers into crushed red pepper flakes:

  • Cut off the top of the pepper and discard (sharp kitchen shears are excellent for this job).
  • Slice down the side of the pepper and split it open to clean out the inside of the pepper.  Discard any of the thicker white membrane that may still be at the top of the pepper (texture will be very brittle and crumbly) and any seeds that are discolored (dark). Reserve healthy seeds to add back to the crushed pepper.
  • Cut the cleaned pepper into smaller pieces and add to a mini chopper or spice grinder.
  • Pulse until the peppers have been broken down to your liking into small flakes (I stop when the majority of the flakes were about the same size as the pepper seeds). If there are still some larger pieces in the mix, sift them out and reprocess or simply break them down by hand with kitchen shears.
  • Store in a an air tight container to store (4 oz canning jars work well if you don’t have a small spice jar).  Like other spices, crushed red pepper flakes will safely store for quite a long time, but the potency will gradually decrease over time.

A word of warning: Dry peppers can still burn.  Handle dry hot peppers with the same care you would fresh hot peppers. In addition, take extra care to avoid contact with eyes or breathing in the chili powder that will be created during the grinding process.

Seed saving tip: peppers are self-pollinating, so go ahead and reserve a few dried seeds for next year’s planting!

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