Like many folks, I found myself faced with an abundance of peppers due to my compulsive planting habits. I would prefer to say “passionate” gardening habits, but I am pretty sure it borders on plant hoarding. Anyway, what to do with all those beautiful peppers? Well you have several options to preserve your bountiful garden gifts for the coming year: drying, freezing, canning, pickling, and infusing them.
Having done all of these, I am now onto infusing them for later use in cooking and herbal remedies. I can even add my infusions to balms, salves, rubbing oils, and soaps to name a few. The cayenne infusion today will be dual purpose; cooking and a warming salve for my aching lower back. More about the salve later (that’s another post and is coming soon). I must also confess that it feels pretty awesome to open up a cupboard and see my infusions; calendula, plantain, comfrey, chamomile, lemon balm and more just infusing away...
There are two ways in which to infuse oils: Direct-heat infusion and solar infusion. A direct-heat infusion means you use heat from the stove or crockpot to accelerate the process and I am sure you guessed it, solar infusion just means you let Mother Nature handle it.
Note about using FRESH herbs with infusing oils: It is extremely important to note that whatever you infuse your oils with, it needs to be well dried or you could risk botulism. You will also need to get the oil hotter. If you would like to use fresh herbs, garlic, etc to infuse your oils, learn more about doing that safely here.
To start, just take your dried cayenne and break them up slightly into a jar or pot. For the simple reason that I didn’t want to smell the capsicum, I chose a mason jar fitted with an old lid and ring. *See the tip at the end before doing this. I filled this jar about 3/4 of the way and covered with a carrier oil to the neck. I used olive oil because I also like to cook with it, so this will make a great cooking treat as well as a salve base. But you could use any carrier oil that you prefer.
I will put this in a double-boiler on low for the better part of today because I am doing a direct heat infusion. However you could place the jar in some water inside of a crock pot over the low setting. If the lid fits, great. If not, just check on it regularly and make sure all the water hasn't evaporated.
If you have a warm, sunny window you can infuse your oils using the solar method. I like to place the jar once filled and capped inside of a paper bag to diffuse the light and let it sit on the window will for several weeks, shaking daily.
Once your oil has infused to your liking you will strain the peppers and oil through an old shirt, sack towel or cheesecloth. Store it like you normally would for the oil. Once it’s strained and cooled you can store it in a cool, dark place and it should last up to a year. As a cooking oil you can enjoy it in your favorite pasta, sauces, fish dishes, soups and more. Hmm… sautéed garlic in hot pepper oil.
Wait, where was I?
Oh yeah, back to the blog. I like to make a muscle rub out of this infusion, but you could use it in a variety of products. Stay tuned for that. I am testing it out now. Motherhood has given me plenty of opportunity to need to soothe my aching joints and muscles, especially after picking up twins all day long. Gah, mama thumb... The struggle is real.
*TIP: Wear gloves or remember to wash up ASAP. Dried peppers didn’t burn me like fresh cut peppers, but trust me you will rub an eye anyway or say... have a smidge of honey off a cayenne laden finger and regret it for hours.