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Freezing Peppers

I’m in a bit of a panic, as it dawned on me Monday that September is rapidly drawing to a close. Although we’ve finally received a reprieve from the summer heat here in the Midwest, the gardens are still churning out produce, and I’m getting behind in preparing everything for the long garden-less haul of winter. Yikes!

I have 15 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes stuffed in my freezer at the moment. (Which sounds like a crazy amount, but will produce only about five 28-ounce batches of tomato sauce.) I must get moving! I need my freezer back!

I did, however, get the gumption to go out to the garden last night and pull all the red-ripe peppers I could find, both sweet and hot, and quickly prepped them for freezing. Peppers are super easy to freeze, and they’ll be good all winter long.

The real beauty of freezing peppers (as opposed to any other method — canning, pickling, drying) is that it’s just three steps and done. No blanching.

That’s right: no blanching,  Folks, I just never seem to have enough ice on hand to create the proper ice bath shock. It’s one of those Fates-like-to-mess-with-you things, I think. Need ice for iced tea? Tray full. Need ice for the ice bath? Two cubes. I haven’t tested it, but I bet if I stood in front of the freezer and shouted, “Iced tea!” and opened the door, there would be three dozen ice cubes. And, upon immediately shutting the door and yelling “Ice bath!” there would lots of rustling and cracking and giggling coming from inside, and !poof! … just one cube.

You really don’t even have to slice up the peppers, except the big blocky bells will take up more room that way. Here’s what I do.

For the bell peppers, slice them into matchsticks (above). Place the slices on a parchment lined tray that will fit in your freezer. Stick the pan in the freezer. The slices will be frozen in an hour or two, and at that point, you can move them to containers or freezer bags (bags are better because you can remove most of the air and prevent freezer burn).

When you need bell peppers for your recipes, just grab a handful and toss them into the pot without thawing. Or, dice them first, then add.

I grow several jalapeno plants, and jalapenos find their way into a lot of my winter dishes. Jalapenos are small enough to be frozen whole: just place them in a bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and you’re good.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can roast them first, then remove the skin, slice them open and scrape out the seeds. Freeze as above.

Serrano peppers are another easy-to-grow hot pepper variety. Slightly hotter and more intense than jalapenos, they’re the perfect heat ingredient in Indian and Mexican cuisines. Even smaller than the jalapeno, I simply slice off the tops, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds before freezing.

Frozen peppers will not be crisp when thawed, but they lose none of their flavor. Use them in soups, stews and casseroles.

But what makes me happiest about homegrown peppers is being able to push my shopping cart right past the bin of $1.50 each bell peppers all winter long.