Thursday, September 20, 2012

Capturing the Garden's Fiery Fairies

The beauty of deep red cayenne peppers dangling from the stems of bright green plants would be reason enough to grow these hot little gems of the late summer garden. But that's just the first of the many gifts they offer. When wisely used, they can quickly turn a humdrum meal into an adventurous culinary escapade. When carefully preserved, they provide an easy way to add extra warmth to dishes on chilly winter evenings.

Cayenne peppers (CP) not only add great flavor and "kick" to our food; they can also contribute substantially to our health and well-being.  Here is a list of some of the numerous health benefits associated with cayenne peppers (adapted from the article "17 Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper"):

1. Anti-Irritant Properties
  • CP  has the ability to ease stomach upset, ulcers, sore throats, spasmodic and irritating coughs, and diarrhea.
2. Anti-Cold and -Flu Agent
  •  CP aids in breaking up and moving congested mucus, thereby accelerating healing.
3. Anti-Fungal Properties
  • CP may effectively prevent the formation of fungal pathogens.
4. Migraine Headache Prevention
  • CP seems to be able to shift the brain's attention and thereby lessen the perception of pain.
5. Anti-Allergen Properties
  • CP may help relieve a variety of allergies.
6. Digestive Aid
  • CP aids in digestion by increasing the flow of enzyme production and gastric juices, thereby aiding the body in metabolizing food. It can also relieve intestinal gas, abdominal cramps, heartburn, and constipation.
7. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
  • These properties make CP helpful in treating arthritis, diabetes, psoriasis and herpes-related nerve damage.
8. Blood Clot/Heart Attack/Stroke Prevention
  • CP helps prevent the formation of blood clots. It also keeps blood pressure levels normalized and rids the body of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these contributions can help reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke.
9. Joint Pain Reliever
10. Possible Anti-Cancer Agent
  • Several studies have suggested that CP has the potential to prevent certain kinds of cancer.
11. Weight Loss Aid
  • CP is both an appetite suppressor and a metabolic booster.
12. Toothache and Gum Disease Remedy
13. Topical Remedy
  • CP has been used to treat snake bites, rheumatism, inflammation, abrasions, and wounds.

During the past few weeks of harvesting, preserving, and nibbling on them, I have come to think of cayenne peppers as spunky little fairies, sent by the Fairy Queen to add an extra bit of festive vitality to the lives of human creatures. There really is nothing like a little dash of homemade cayenne-pepper sauce to rouse us out of the doldrums of everyday adult living. So why not head out to your local farmer's market, rustle up a few capsaicin-rich sprites, and concoct a zesty batch? Here's a simple recipe I came up with this summer:
Farmer Jennie's Hundred-Pepper Hot Sauce
100 red cayenne peppers
12 cloves of garlic
8 cups white vinegar
2 teaspoons sea salt

* This recipe can easily be halved, quartered, or doubled, depending on how many peppers you have.

Wash and process your canning jars. (You will need eight 8-ounce jars for a batch this size.) Leave them in the canner and let the water simmer while you prepare the sauce. Also immerse the lids and bands in a pot of warm water, and keep it warm on the stove. 

Wash, drain, and gently dry the peppers. Remove their stems. Place the peppers in a stainless steel pot, and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer until the peppers and the garlic are soft, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cool slightly, then "liquify" it in a blender or a food processor. Run it through a finely meshed metal strainer. Return it to the pot and bring it to a simmer again. Turn off the heat. 

Pour the sauce into the prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom. Wipe the sides and rims of the jars. Put on the lids and tighten the bands (just finger-tight). Immerse the jars in the water canner's boiling water and process for 10 minutes. Remove the jars and place them on a towel laid out on the kitchen counter for 24 hours; then check the seal. (If any of the cans are not sealed, refrigerate them or reprocess.)

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