Posted by: hightides | January 1, 2011


Winter wealth -- chile pepper powders

In mid-November we finally harvested the last of the peppers. We had a young man, Alex, come help us dismantle the pepper patch and then stay to help us with the framing of the new hoophouse. He harvested a few more peppers that had somehow skipped through the frosts, but by the time he left almost all of the earlier harvests had been run through the dehydrators, been double bagged, and were waiting for grinding day.

Grinding peppers sounds easy, doesn’t it? But there’s a huge problem with those tiny little shriveled bits– the powder is just as stingingly hot as the fresh pepper. Habanero doesn’t lose its potency just because you’ve dried it. Some peppers actually aren’t used until they are dry, because the sugars and heats will change with the drying.  A Poblano becomes an Ancho, a Jalapeño becomes Chipotle (with a little additional smoking).  When the grinding begins, the stray powders fly everywhere, but especially into your nose and eyes. You do not want this stuff flying around your kitchen!  Our solution is to rent the county fairgrounds certified kitchen.

We gather up bags and bags of dried and stockpiled chiles, a couple of coffee grinders, measuring spoons, funnels, snap lid containers, paper towels, a fresh box of vinyl disposable gloves and the best face masks we can buy.  The kitchen we rent has a 20′ countertop where we can line up all of the chiles and, best of all, a HUGE overhead fan system that sucks all the powder dust right out of the building. We begin an all day production of smashing the dried chiles in their ziplocks and then grinding them, one variety at a time, before final bottling. We use a little 5ml bottle for our finished product– which is cute, holds a fair amount, fits on most spice shelves, and has become a signature of our chile powders.

Chile or Chili?

CHILI is a concoction of meat, heat, and several secret ingredients (ask any Texan) that resembles brown/red soup in a bowl. Do not add tomatoes in some parts of the country (some still believe that tomatoes are poisonous) (again, ask a Texan); do not add beans of any kind in other parts of the country.  In our house, we brown onions, meat, garlic, add canned tomatoes, water, beans (in Michigan it was kidney beans, here it’s navy beans) (see? different everywhere), and then begin the heat adding process, which brings us to the CHILE.

CHILE is the correct word for the fruit of a pepper plant.  Some traditional peppers — remember the Poblano and Jalapeño references above — change names when they’re dried and/or smoked. But all CHILE POWDERS should remain a single variety so the individual flavors can be appreciated.  Bishop’s Crown isn’t very hot, but has a distinct lemon citrus flavor. Almost everyone knows Cayenne– it’s the powder that’s traditionally sprinkled on deviled eggs.  When you mix a few different chiles with cumin, garlic powder, and Mexican oregano, the result is CHILI POWDER– the spice mix that’s used to make Chili!

Terribly confused? Well, this year for the first time we’ll be selling CHILI POWDER as well as CHILE POWDERS.  The first is a blend of chiles with added spices, the second is a pure grind from only one variety of pepper.  We tossed around some ideas for the name of the new chile powder blend, but ended up with 2010 Chile Powder.  We assume that next year’s blend won’t be the same as this year’s, and the first three ideas we had didn’t fit on the label. ‘Nuff said.   2010 Chile Powder will make its debut this month in the Oklahoma Food Co-op order for January.  Supplies are very limited as we hadn’t planned on doing this and didn’t have enough chiles to make megapounds of this stuff.

Our first test was with ground buffalo and from the very first the kitchen smelled like CHILI. I will say that a tablespoon of the chile powder was way too much heat for one pound of meat, but the flavor was amazing. We’re thinking a teaspoon would be plenty, which means the 5ml bottle will spice about 12 pots of chili for most people, 6 to 8 for chili heads. There were some leftovers, but they melted the plastic snap top container and disappeared before lunch the next day.

Oh, the chile powders?  We sold eighteen 5-bottle gift packs and that huge pile of bottled chiles is down to a couple of handfuls.  Next year we’ll try for 200 bottles?

Happy New Year!



  1. I used HTGF dried chiles in my *chili* today, and I used the chipotle from the gift pack in my New Year’s black-eyed peas. LOVE LOVE LOVE your chile powders!

  2. Glad you liked the powders. We used a smoked mix and some roasted Anaheims in the Hoppin’ John. The chile roaster got rave reviews today!

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