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squirrels attack chiles//what to do with green habaneros?

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I am a first time grower of habanero peppers. The little plant in a pot went wild - it's loaded with peppers. The excitement is mounting at my house . . . but the damn squirrels keep knocking the fullsize but still green peppers off! Can I pickle them or use them in any way? I wouldn't normally make such a big deal about unripe fruits/veg, but I am an urban gardener and the peppers are tantalizing!

I'm trying to get a taste test from my significant other (possessor of cast iron taste buds) but perhaps one of you has information that could spare her . . . ?

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  1. like any other pepper, it's usable at any stage of ripeness. they will be less sweet and have kind of a "green peppery" taste if used before ripe. they will still be warm to hot.

    note, however, that some habeneros ripen to a bright green/yellow-green colour; so if you're lucky, they may not be as unripe as you think. my experience growing them is that they cling pretty tenaciously until ripe, then fall off easily. i generally harvest by combing through the fruits with my fingers, whatever falls off is ripe and ready.

    i'd try roasting/grilling them to bring out the sweetness. or just use them for heat in salsas, pickled cukes/beans, etc.

    by the way, i grow quite a few peppers of various types. the hot ones always seem to do best if unfertilized (i top dress at planting) and left in arid conditions (i rarely water after established unless we have a drought). i always get bushels of very hot, flavorful peppers.

    4 Replies
    1. re: mark

      thanks a million for the terrifically informative post - you hit the high points of what I need to know

      like . . . maybe the squirrels are doing me a favor . . . I'll roast a few and find out.

      1. re: pitu

        ....unlike other chiles, roasting a hab is not a good idea. The walls are very thin, and you just won't have anything left, plus the fumes from the roasting chiles would potentially be very hard on the eyes and respiratory system - and cooking doesn't really do anything to enhance the flavor. Also, as a long-time grower and consumer of these explosive fireballs, I wouldn't be cutting off any little bits and eating them plain. You'll be very, very sorry....seriously. Be careful with these things.

        1. re: peg

          just goes to show... different strokes and all that. while hot, i don't find habeneros (i've been growing them for 8-9 years) to be dangerous/painful as some subsequent posters have noted. it all depends on your own tolerance. i eat them straight and enjoy the burn.

          you do have to be careful roasting/grilling them, as they will burn. you don't want to achieve the same deep, dark color you would go for on a red bell. you just want to bring out the sugars with a little heat. once you see small char marks on them, they're ready.

          i don't have a problem with fumes when roasting whole. when grinding them, however, i have gassed myself a few times (major coughing and sneezing fit).

          with hotter peppers like habeneros, start small and slow until you know your tolerance. nipping off a little and tasting it won't hurt you unless you're super sensitive (if you're concerned start with something milder).

          1. re: mark

            Maybe your habaneros got cross-pollinated?

    2. When I inquired about the fieriness of some variety of Thai pepper plant I bought at a plant store some time ago, the owner told me to slice off the tip of one of the peppers with fingernail and to taste that little bit to get an idea of the hotness. It turned out to be a pretty good way to get an idea of the heat w/o severly risking your chewing mouth parts. It makes sense if you consider that most of the capsaicin in the pepper is in the seeds and veins and there isn't much of either at the very tip of the pepper -- though I would still be surprised if the habanero didn't give you some delicious burn.

      1. Pitu, I strongly 2nd Peg's word of caution. These things are nothing to mess around with. You can't describe the hurt they will put on a person and the burn just goes on and on. I grow them for decoration and the occasional jerk recipe. I had a guest take a big bite out of one (drunk and stupid); we almost had to take him to the emergency room. I'm not kidding, those things are serious. Wear gloves when chopping, etc.
        Bob