Thursday, March 10, 2011

On Chili Powder and Home Economics

Yesterday wasn't the most productive day, though I did make pizza (not shown) and chili powder (shown).  Last summer my chili plants (various species) did really well, and last summer, unlike previous summers, I learned how to properly tie up a strand of ripe chilies for drying.  I used a heavy needle and heavy thread that I quadrupled.  Then I pushed the needle through the base of each stem, through the sepals.  

These are shown dry, but when I made this rope of chilies they were fresh.  I alternated the chilies, back and forth, for aesthetic value and to expedite the drying process: you want dry air to circulate around whatever it is that you hope to dry.  Hence, it's good to have some space around the individual chilies.  Then, once they were strung, I hung them in my pantry.

To make the chili powder I separated the seeds and stems from the dried flesh.  I did this by hand, breaking off the stem and knocking the seeds out.  I had another plate for the clean, seed free flesh.  As I did this, I wondered how commercial operations make chili powder.  I wondered how they separate the seeds from the flesh...

I sneezed a lot while grinding the chilies into powder.  That's a good sign.  That means that the oils are still potent.  Anyway, if I had a bigger mortar and pestle and a more refined technique, that is, if I could make more jars of chili powder per hour, I'd still be earning a pretty low wage.  I sometimes reach this conclusion when I make things from scratch at home.  I often wonder about the machines and cheap labor behind the various goods that are conveniently and cheaply and abundantly available to us.  The question then becomes, "why bother doing this at home?"  The answer must be found in the satisfaction of doing it AND in the superior quality of the product.  That said, if I combined the value of the fresh produce and the value-added goods I made from the fresh produce I took from my garden this year (tomato sauce, dried chilies, chili powder, jams, pickles, etc), I think this year I came out on top for the first time, money-wise, if only by an inconsequental hundred bucks.    

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