NORTH LIBERTY — A wheelbarrow filled with peppers sat on the side of the residential street with a sign: “Free. Take some.”
And people did.
“They were too hot for us this year,” Don Sobczak says. “My wife took a few for our salsa, but we had plenty left.”
That’s when he filled up the wheelbarrow. A few days later, the peppers were gone. With more still growing in the garden, he expects he’ll fill up the wheelbarrow again.
“It’s the season,” says Mike Hultquist, author of “Jalapeno Madness: Jalapeno Recipes Galore” and “Jalapeno Poppers: and Other Stuffed Chili Peppers,” and creator of Jalapeno Madness, a website dedicated to “the greatest pepper on Earth.”
Jalapenos, he says, are more than a way to add a kick to salsa.
“The versatility is huge for me,” Hultquist says. “I cook with them every single day.”
Eat them raw, roasted, pickled, candied and fried. Add jalapenos to a salad or to any cooked dishes for a bit of heat. They also work well in baked goods and beverages.
Keith Dearborn, a master gardener with the Linn County Extension Office, often uses his food dehydrator to make pepper from his jalapenos.
“I use it with jerky, but you can sprinkle it on eggs or add it to soup,” Dearborn says. “It adds a nice heat to foods.”
It’s the heat that people love — and fear — when it comes to jalapeno peppers.
A pepper’s heat is contained in the seeds and ribs of the pepper. How hot, though, depends on several factors, including the pepper’s age, number of seeds, when and where it was grown, weather and rainfall.
“Heat and moisture stress tends to affect the heat level,” Dearborn says.
Typically, the hottest peppers grow in climates where dry heat is common, such as Mexico.
In Eastern Iowa, though, an unusually dry, hot summer is yielding hotter peppers.
These peppers are still edible. Recipes, however, may need to be altered to account for the added heat.
Always remember to either wear latex gloves or wash your hands very thoroughly after handling jalapenos. The chemical which also makes the pepper hot to the taste can cause painful chemical burns to the skin.
If you do burn your skin, try rubbing alcohol first to remove the burning oil. Then, soak the skin in milk or another dairy product.
The average jalapeno plant will produce 25 to 35 peppers a season, and that’s one single, small plant. So what do you do with them?
Leave the peppers on the vine. Eventually, they may begin to shrivel and fall off on their own.
Remove the peppers from the plant once they are ripe and place them whole in a paper bag in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Jalapenos will keep for one to two weeks.
Drying jalapenos can preserve them indefinitely. Using a needle and thread, string the peppers by the stems and hang in a dry location. Once they are dry, refrigeration is not necessary. Dried jalapenos can be ground. A dehydrator speeds the drying process or slice and bake strips in the oven before storing.
Tightly pack jalapenos whole or sliced into jars. Fill the jar with boiling water and other ingredients (which vary by recipe) before sealing. Refrigeration is necessary.
Place peppers whole, chopped or slice in freezer bags and freeze. The peppers may be soft once thawed and may not be suitable for eating raw. Peppers will keep 10 months to a year frozen.
Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto with Lime
Combine the cilantro, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, and Parmesan cheese in a blender; pulse until the mixture reaches a soft, paste-like consistency.
Cheddar Jalapeno Bread
Combine the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Add warm water. After about 5 minutes, the yeast will have bloomed.
In your mixer, sift the flour and salt. Add in the olive oil, additional warm water, and the blooming yeast. Mix on low for a few minutes.
Grate up slightly over 2 cups of your cheese. Cut and dice jalapenos. Add both to the mixture, saving tablespoons of cheese to sprinkle on top of the loaf before you bake it.
Knead the dough for a 8 to 10 minutes. When the texture of your bread dough is smooth and elastic, lightly coat a large bowl with oil, turn the dough ball inside it to coat it completely with oil, and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise for two hours.
Butter a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. Punch down dough and knead it again for another 5 minutes. Place dough in pan.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Whisk your egg, and brush the egg mixture evenly all over the top of your bread. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheddar on top.
Bake your bread loaf in the center of the oven for 1 to 1.25 hours, or until golden brown. Bread will sound hollow when tapped; that’s how you know it is finished.
Leave this on a rack to cool for at least an hour before cutting into it.
Source: Recipe adapted from www.choosy-beggars.com
In a sauce pan over medium high heat, combine the sugar, water and jalapeno. If you want your drink to be less spicy, remove the seeds from the pepper.
Heat the mixture and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a rolling boil then remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the jalapeno chunks and seeds.
Combine the sugar mixture, lemon juice and water in a large pitcher. Chill for at least 1 hour.
Strawberry Jalapeno Poppers
Wash strawberries and pat dry. Hollow out strawberries with a spoon.
In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, jalapeno, lime juice and chili powder.
Stuff strawberries with the cheese mixture. Dip cheese end of strawberry into cilantro.
Refrigerate one hour and serve.
Source: Jalapeno Madness (www.jalapenomadness.com)