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drying chilis

Dry Your Peppers with Ristras

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It’s that time of year, when there’s a chili in the air.

The ristra, a strand of dried peppers commonly seen in the New Mexico area, is a symbol of abundance and hospitality. This time of year, they decorate the walls and doorways of homes and restaurants as peppers air dry on strands of string or twine. Some say drying outside enhances the flavor, but you’ll have to find out for yourself.

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Garden Harvest Given to At-Risk Children

The cafeteria at Centers for Youth and Families overflows with organically grown tomatoes, peppers and more, and the staff barely has room for the harvest donation from Moss Mountain Farm. In the coming weeks, they’ll see even more produce arrive to provide nutritious meals for children in treatment and summer programs at Centers.

IMG_5208Moss Mountain Farm, owned by P. Allen Smith, has been fortunate enough to share its bounty with neighboring outreach programs. These hundreds of pounds of summer vegetables have been given to nonprofits in Little Rock and Conway. The Centers for Youth and Families was one location chosen to receive a donation because of a shared project to install a therapy garden on the campus. Centers for Youth and Families provides treatment for family issues and emotionally disturbed or at-risk youth in a residential setting, and studies have shown therapeutic gardening, sometimes called horticulture therapy, provides relief for stress and mental and developmental disabilities.

“On behalf of The Centers Foundation, it’s always an honor to receive donations from corporate and community partners like this, that will go on to benefit our children and youth. What makes this donation even more special is that it’s also symbolic of Centers for Youth & Families roots,” said Doug Stadter, president and CEO of Centers.  In 1884, Elizabeth Mitchell couldn’t bear the thought of children in need and began to taken them into her home. She quickly inspired others to do the same. Her actions led to the formation of the organization now known as Centers for Youth & Families. “More than 130 Years later, this is a great reminder of the importance of helping children and youth who need it the most,” Stadter added.

IMG_5200Centers believes the garden project would greatly benefit its patients, and while planning for that project continues, the Acre Garden at Moss Mountain Farm overflowed with a summer harvest of Bonnie Plants and those grown from Sakata Seeds. The farm produced crates and crates of Juliet, Yellow Jubilee and Sungold tomatoes as well as Banana and Yes to Yellow peppers, among others. The cafeteria at Centers proved to be the ideal landing spot for the farm’s harvest. And this donation will have the dual purpose of prepping the staff at Centers for an influx of fresh produce from its on-site gardens once the project is completed.  Smith and his farm plan to continue weekly donations as long as the harvest allows.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation, children in our residential treatment program, emergency shelter and summer program are enjoying farm fresh, organic produce this summer,” said Stadter. “Providing a nutritious diet and teaching our kids the importance and fun of healthy eating is an essential part of our work at Centers for Youth & Families. We’re grateful to P. Allen Smith and the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation for being such a great partner in our efforts to build happier and healthier children, families, and communities across Arkansas.”

In addition to Centers, Moss Mountain Farm’s Acre Garden also supplied 125 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peppers and okra to St. Peters Food Pantry in Conway.

In the Kitchen: Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are plentiful during the late summer and early fall and their range of color, shape and potency makes them fun to grow.

Cooking with chili peppers has become very popular in the past decade. They can be prepared in so many delicious ways – grilled, stuffed, fried and who can resist a good salsa?

The spiciness of a dish depends on what type of pepper that you use. There are several factors that contribute to making a chili pepper hot, such as growing conditions and the age of the plant, but the easiest way to select a pepper that is the right spiciness for you is to select a variety and then see where it ranks on the Scoville scale. Peppers get their bite from something called capsaicin and the Scoville scale measure the levels of capsaicin in a given variety of pepper. For instance, a super hot pepper such as the Habanero has a rating of 10, with 300,000 – 100,000 Scoville units while the milder Anaheim has a rating of 2 with only 1,000 – 500 units. I prefer a mild flavor, so I use Anaheim peppers for this recipe.

One thing to remember when working with hot peppers – it’s a good idea to wear gloves. And keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth.

If you get some of it on in your hands and it begins to burn, the best way to remove it is to rinse your hands with vinegar and then wash them with warm, soapy water.