Ah springtime, a time of optimism and hope. I suppose it was under its delusional spell that I bought a six pack of chile pepper starts from Home Depot, sold under the name ‘Five Alarm Fire.” I like to cook with some spice, and I get annoyed by buying chiles at the grocery store (they always seem to get lost between the market and home, or I need them but don’t have them, etc.) But, as I quickly learned, I do not use enough spice in my cooking to ever make a dent in six plants worth of reasonably spicy chiles.
At the end of the season, there were still LOTS left. I tried to pawn them off on my various garden neighbors, but it turns out that people are fairly xenophobic about their chiles, and you can’t just put a jalapeno or habanero in type in authentic east Asian or Chinese home cooking and expect it to work.
So I decided to make some chile garlands. I had probably a hundred extra serranos, habaneros and thai chilies on the plants in November. San Diego’s insanely dry fall weather made drying the peppers outside in the shade a very simple proposition. Once they seemed reasonably dry, I strung them using a needle and thread. This turned out to be pretty fun and easy, as long as you remember not to scratch your eyes during the process. I wasn’t sure how the pros do it in New Mexico, but I just ran the chili through at the top near the stem and it seemed to work.
The result wasn’t exactly a fine work of art. It turns out that those BIG strands of chiles you see at Gonzalez-Northgate market have hundreds on them, and they tend to be larger chiles to start with (poblanos). But the overall result was fun and festive. I took the long strand I made (probably 3 ft long) and divided it in thirds, and gave them away for Christmas. I’ll be interested to hear if the recipients get any use out of them, or if they remain purely ornamental.