Have you have wondered where your food comes from, or how it got on your plate? Have you ever been upset upon hearing how much water was used to process those veggies or that steak? Have you ever thought, “Hey, I could do a better job than that?” Well, this is your call to action.
Even though we are all very busy throughout the semester, at times it is important to slow down and breathe. Growing your own produce could be the perfect excuse to do just that, not to mention the satisfaction that comes from watching something you nurture grow and blossom beautifully.
I decided this year that I need something I can take care of besides myself, in order to find peace outside of school work and clubs. Something purely designed to be peaceful. So, after watching my buddy experiment with Thai chilies he’d been growing all summer, I decided to go out and find my own. In order to find such a plant, however, I needed to go into smaller nurseries and ask if they had any herb plants or such in the back. More often than not, they’ll come back with some wicked selections. I found my Thai chili plant at A New Leaf, located four miles outside of Ithaca along Highway 79. The plant cost me $22.50, with the added three percent charge for using a credit card.
Thai chilies specifically need a lot of sunlight, and so I placed it on my fire escape in direct exposure to the sun. The best way to figure out what your plant needs to live a healthy life? Ask the person who you bought it from! But eventually, I knew this plant would have to be moved indoors before the first frost would have killed my warm-blooded companion. There are a few concerns you might have with moving a plant — especially one that needs ample amounts of sunlight — indoors.
First, how is it going to get those much needed rays? Your answer lies on Amazon, where you can purchase a UV plant grow light for between $15 and $26. There are a variety of these, all with their own features, timers, brightness and light type settings (red, blue or both). I decided to go with a $26 model with three prongs of UV strip LEDs, an interval timer so that every 12 hours my Thai chili plant will get 12 hours of mock sunlight and a mounting clip. I transferred my baby into a larger 12” pot for ample room to grow, got a tray for any possible water leakage and moved it into my attic. With the plant light, it is greener than ever and still budding new chilies. Now, however, I need to rub the pollen around with my hand to flower new chilies, as there are no bees and bugs to do the work for me.
After the tranquil labor of caretaking, the best part of this process is by far the harvest. Waiting for the chilies to get big enough requires me to practice patience and good observation. I am continuously learning about how these chilies develop over time, when they change color, how big they get and how spicy they are at different stages. For my intentions, I harvest them at a variety of colors because the redder they get, the spicer they become — and they are hot! According to pepperscale.com, Thai chilies are on average 50,000-100,000 Scovilles, or about 23 times as hot as the average jalapeño.
In order to tone down the heat and make them into something much more palatable, I decided to pickle them. Now there are a few things to consider when pickling for the first time, as I did this past fall break — the primary thing being safety. If done incorrectly, E. coli, botulism and Listeria can develop in your jars, and make you seriously ill. So, in order to avoid any possible screw ups, I found an old Romanian recipe to pickle hot peppers that requires only vinegar instead of a brine. Because of its acidity, vinegar will not allow these harmful bacteria to grow, avoiding any possible mishaps. The other thing you need to consider is what else you will be adding to your jars for a more nuanced flavor and aesthetic appeal.
Going with a thoroughly Thai theme, I decided to add sliced Thai ginger, Thai basil leaves, split garlic cloves, sliced white onion and pickling spices to my chili jars. After prepping these additional ingredients, I boiled my quart size jars for 10 minutes, throwing in the lids for the last two minutes. After removing them and letting them air dry, I packed the sterilized jars tightly with clean hands, then fill them to the brim with white wine vinegar. After topping with lids tightly screwed and rinsed off, I set the colorful jars in a cool dark place to rest for a month — the full amount of time it takes for a vinegar-only solution to pickle the peppers.
This, I found, was an extremely gratifying process from start to finish — a duration of about one and a half months. Not only did it give me an outlet to take my mind off my studies, but it also allowed me to make something that I’m proud of and can share with my friends and family. There is no better gift than something made from scratch.