Category Archives: Late Summer

Dried Chili Peppers

Dried chili peppersWe didn’t eat spicy food when I was growing up.  Not at all.

I didn’t learn to appreciate spicy food until I was in my early twenties, and it was at an Italian restaurant, of all places.  I patronized Mercato in Calgary throughout high school, then later I had the opportunity to work in their kitchen.  They make food from all over Italy, but the owners are Calabrian, and there’s always a few pastas on the menu made by infusing olive oil with garlic and hot chili flakes.  I remember the first time that I realized how effective a little heat can be.  It wakes up your mouth, and it elongates the sensation of the dish, as your mouth is warm well after you’ve swallowed the pasta.

Lisa and I now use chili flakes on noodles, in grilled chicken marinades, and on pizza.  In fact we use so many that we started drying our own peppers.

At the end of the growing season the greenhouses at farmers’ markets often have fantastic sales to get rid of the last of their produce.  Lots peppers can be got on the cheap: the only problem is using them up before they go bad.

It turns out that peppers dry very, very easily in Edmonton, especially hot varieties, which are selectively bred to have thin skins.  At first we just strung the fresh peppers together using dental floss (makes sure it’s not flavoured with mint…) and hung them in the kitchen.  This completely passive method worked about two out of every three times, but every now and then we found that the peppers would mold slightly on the inside, at the top were the stem, flesh, and placenta meet.  (The placenta is the name of the whitish membrane than holds all the seeds…)  Since then we’ve been jump-starting the drying process in a low oven for a few hours.

The skin becomes paper thin and brittle, and when held to the light you can actually see the shadows of the seeds. It’s a simple preserving method that requires almost no work and keeps us in peppery heat all winter long.

You can blitz the whole peppers in a spice grinder, but to get something resembling commercial chili flakes, use a mortar and pestle that will pulverize the brittle flesh while keeping the seeds intact.  If you use a spice grinder you can open the peppers and remove the seeds before busting up the dry flesh, then reincorporate the seeds before sprinkling the flakes onto your food.

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Rumpot

The first layer of the rumpotRumtopf, literally “rum pot”, is a traditional German fruit preserve. As each type of fruit comes into season, it is macerated with sugar, placed in the pot, then covered with rum. Traditional rumtopfen are earthenware pots with heavy lids, but any wide-mouthed, non-reactive vessel can be used.

I use about one part sugar to two parts fruit, by weight, for each addition.

Once the last layer of fruit is added, the mixture steeps for a few months, and is traditionally eaten around Christmas.

The mixture goes through some profound transformations during aging. It loses the striking vibrancy seen above and turns a uniform burgundy. The liquor loses its clarity and becomes murky, with an exceptionally rich mouthfeel, verging on viscous.  The severity of the alcohol mellows.  The pot no longer exudes the delicate aromas of early summer, but rather a medicinal scent, strong of the boozy raspberries.

The fruit can be spooned over, say, ice cream, cake, or waffles, and the liquor can be drank on its own. On waffles with whipped cream, with an ounce of the liquor and black coffee. The fruits have combined to form one homogeneous flavour, so it matters little whether you spoon an apricot or a strawberry onto your plate. The fruit is extremely delicate, saturated with liquid.

A fantastic way to start the day, as long as you don’t have to operate heavy machinery later in the morning.

Rumpot and whipped cream on waffles

 

Single Fruit Rumpot: The Cherry Pot, and Plumplop

As mentioned above, the traditional method of layering the fruit as it comes into season results in a very generic “fruit” flavour.  In recent years I have been making a few different rumpots, each containing only one type of fruit.  The results have been fantastic.  The aromas are so strong and distinct that and I don’t think I will ever the multi-fruit variety again.

The best has been a pot filled with pitted Evans cherries and Appleton’s rum.  After a few months the pot had a remarkable cherry aroma with clear notes of almond extract.  The natural acidity of the cherries was a welcome addition to the liqueur.

Another notable mention goes to a rumpot made with BC plums.  By Christmas the pot smelled like purple Mr. Sketch scented markers.  It made a deadly liqueur that we initially called “plumpot,” but, after several glasses, could only describe as “plumplop.”