What If . . .?

As we harvest the last of this season’s tomatoes, I can’t help but wonder if we would even have a garden if grocery store tomatoes were any good. When we first started a few plants in planters years ago, the first things we tried were tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t think I am alone with that. After marginal success, and a few great tasting tomatoes, the garden expanded. And expanded again, a few times. We now grow a number of varieties, none of which are available in a store by me. The same is true for most plants we grow. One of the big revelations for us was chocolate tomatoes. I had never even seen them before, but oh the taste, the taste was like no tomato I had had. Sweet, low in acid, meaty.

Gardening can readily become an obsession as one experiences vegetables that taste like something. Even home-grown carrots taste much better than any I have had from a store. Sure, part of the taste is the psychological benefit that I grew it, but, the varieties of vegetables sold at stores were not selected for taste; mine are.

This coming weekend the tomato plants and most others will be pulled up. Water will be disconnected to areas no longer growing anything. And only a few hearty plants like kale, Brussels sprouts, and some winter squash and gourds will be left to grow. The second half of the great plant migration is largely over, but that is a subject for another time.

Enjoy the end of the season harvests. Try to remember what vegetables can, and should, taste like through the winter.

Francis’s Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce

About 2 1/2 years ago for the holidays a good family friend sent along a can with a small seed in it all ready for water. That was before I knew much of anything about super hot peppers, at least other than videos I had watched of people eating super hot peppers and the aftermath of that decision. The videos had instilled in me one primary thought: Stay away, way away. Now, with the arrival of that small seed I had the start for one of those super hot peppers.

The moment I decided to water the seed – and really, because Francis was like a 3rd grandfather to me I couldn’t not try to grow it, was when I took one step too many over the cliff and started to slide off. The slide was slow at first; I likely still had time to grab onto something to stop. Ghost pepper plants, at least mine, are very slow to grow. It took 14 months before the first blossom formed. Granted, some of that time the plant spent in less-than-ideal conditions, but still, more than 18 months before the first pepper ripened. I remember wondering whether just touching the pepper was dangerous. I had played with enough hot peppers then rubbed an eye that I did not want to experience that with a hotter pepper. The plant is producing so many peppers now that it is a year older that I am again a bit overwhelmed by them all.

Once the peppers started ripening the next logical question was: How to use them. Our expectation was that the peppers would be just a little cooler than lava (or  a Phoenix summer, which is about the same temperature most years). We started with using whole peppers in a salsa and then removing the ghost pepper after cooking. That method add surprisingly little heat. Then we started chopping small ghost peppers and adding them after a further wiz in the blender to ensure we did not get a good chunk of pepper in a bite. Now, after much experimentation, it is our go-to chili for adding extra spice to the chutneys, salsas, and hot sauces. It is the only pepper we have found to cut through the sweetness of the peach chutney or roasted tomatillo salsa verde. We also add a couple to the  hot sauce to add just a bit more kick to the fruity habaneros.

This past winter a generous reader let me know that in Costa Rica they add papaya to a hot sauce similar to the hot pepper hot sauce. Adding fruit, especially papaya, to a hot sauce was not something I had contemplated. It has taken until a few weeks ago for the habanero peppers and ghost peppers to ripen to allow me to experiment with different versions of the basic recipe. The recipe below is named for Francis who sent us down the super hot pepper path. Be forewarned, this is hot. It is also fruity and tasty. It adds a great punch to tacos, eggs, and on anything else a hot sauce is appropriate (as if there is anything that isn’t appropriate). If you don’t have fresh ghost peppers or don’t want to deal with that level of heat, feel free to omit them. We have also tried this sauce with mango and it tastes great too.


FRANCIS’S GHOST PEPPER HOT SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 6 Ripe Ghost Peppers, seeded, deveined, and diced (WEAR GLOVES)
  • 26 Ripe Habanero Peppers, seeded, deveined, and diced
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, roasted
  • 2 Medium Carrots, cleaned and grated or diced
  • 1/2 Small Papaya (about 1 cup), seeded and peel removed, Chopped
  • 1 Medium-Large Onion, diced
  • 2 Cups Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Lime Juice
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • Directions
    Wear Food Service Gloves for preparation and clean-up!

    Seed and remove the veins from the ghost peppers and habanero peppers then chop the peppers and place in medium pot.

    Roast the garlic cloves with skin on in a hot skillet until slightly blackened. Let cool. Remove skin and put in pot with peppers.

    Clean carrots and remove tops, peel if desired. Then grate or dice. Put in pot with ingredients above.

    Dice onion and add to pot.

    Add vinegar and water to pot.

    Cook everything about 20 minutes at a simmer. You want everything soft.

    Slice papaya in half. Remove seeds. Scoop out flesh. Keep on the side until last 10 minutes of cooking all above.

    Let everything in pot cool awhile.

    Add lime juice to blender. When all the other ingredients are cool, add to blender. Cover and blend 10 minutes or so until liquified. Do not stick your face over the blender while blending or adding mixture to the blender. Just the fumes are potent.

    Enjoy!


    Weekend Harvest

     

    Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words. Brad’s Black Heart (on left), Azorean Red (right), and a truck load of Avamatoes.

    Hot! Habanero, Thai Hot, Ghost Peppers

    It was a good harvest for the weekend.

    A Miscalculation

     

    Gardening is about making educated guesses and hoping for the best. What plant will grow, how big will it get, how far can I push the limits. One of the miscalculations I made this year was how big some of our gourds would get. I had a few issues with plants starting so I just stuck some in erroneously thinking they wouldn’t get that large. Well, the swan gourds, both the gourds and the vines, like where I stuck them and they are growing like crazy.

    For the past couple of years we have grown the gourds at the base of some Manzanita trees. The vines would grow up the trees and through the branches. This resulted in a more efficient use of space and looked nice. That method works great with moderate sized gourds. The swan gourds, and one in particular, are far larger than anticipated. The weight of the gourds are pulling the vines out of the trees. I don’t even want to think about one of them falling on my head. Or toe. OUCH!

    The other issue is that by having gravity work for, maybe against, me, the necks of the gourds are straight. That is fine for the dipper gourds growing next to the swan gourds, but not so great for the swan gourds. Now I have to find a new place to grow the swan gourds next year. I also have to find a new place to grow the tomatoes because the plants this year are, I think, being hit by a blight. That is a whole other story though.

    Lush Green

    One of the color families you get used to not seeing in the desert is lush green. Sure, there is a lot of green around, but nothing lush or deep green. Everything seems to have a tan filter. This is not overly surprising given that I have had about 1/4 inch of rain since last fall. This is in stark contrast to the garden this year.

    So far the garden has reportedly received over 9 inches of rain this year. Two weekends ago we received almost 4 inches of rain in just one day. All this extra water, combined with more moderate temperatures, has resulted in the garden being a color green I have not seen in a while. The plants look healthy and full. They are full of fruit and vegetables. I can see the error of my ways in planting the plants too close together. Although we have not started harvesting large quantities of anything other than serrano and Shishito peppers and kale, I expect big harvests in a couple of weeks as tomatoes and peppers ripen.

    Until the large harvests begin, I just have to enjoy seeing deep green again.