Preserving chillies by sun drying is an easy method to store excess chillies. Chillies are very easy to grow in warmer climates and depending on the weather and the age of the plant, you may have more chillies than you expected each season. The previous season (2020 – 2021) ended with a wonderful supply of chillies where the plants kept fruiting even through winter (although, it is the subtropics in Gold Coast with warmer winter weather). With about ten chilli plants growing through the backyard, we faced quite a challenge to pick the chillies. But as the winter season came to an end, the chilli plants began to lose their leaves and branches began to turn brown.
At this point, the dead branches were snipped off using secateurs to allow for new growth to emerge. Come spring, the plants sprouted new growth and by the following Autumn, we had a bumper harvest of chillies. Every weekend, there was an average of ½ kg of chillies that were being harvested. We sold some, shared with family and friends, ate quite a bit and yet had a lot more fruiting on a regular basis.
To deal with the excess harvest, we began to preserve the chillies so they did not go to waste and could be used when the supply for the chillies would become scarce. This is an old technique used by my family and it is the easiest way to preserve chillies that will keep for 12-24 months (or longer) if kept in airtight jars or containers.
The smaller chillies such as the ones from my garden are green when they are unripe. As they age, their colour begins to change from green to orange which then continues to deepen to a red colour. If left too long, they will dry out and go to seed so they must be picked as they ripen. We prefer to harvest with the stalk intact as it helps the plant use less energy to get rid of the used stalks and in turn, produces more chillies.
Once harvested, the chillies should be washed and left to air dry in a cool dry place. They can then be moved to the refrigerator in a flat tray to allow the remaining moisture to be removed. Fridges are great at preventing moisture build up and will help dry out the chillies much quicker. You can leave the chillies in the fridge for about a week tops because thereafter, they begin to rot.
Preserving Chillies by Sun Drying
The same flat tray in which the chillies were placed can be taken outdoors and placed in direct sunlight. The chillies must have a light coating of oil – not too much – to help with the drying and preservation process. The chillies must be dried in a sunny position with a covering cloth that lets sunlight through (such as a muslin/cheesecloth) for an entire day or two (or even three days if cloudy). Always bring the chillies indoors when the sun sets and back outside when the sun rises.
Once the sun has set on the last day of drying and before the chillies are brought inside, we make sure the chillies are completely dry and become crisp. Any soggy or blackened chillies are discarded as they may be diseased. The remaining chillies are left to cool down completely. If packed immediately, the chillies will release steam and cause moisture to be formed in the storage container.
The best storage containers for the purpose of storing the dried chillies are airtight glass jars. Reusing coffee jars are also a great option as they’ve been designed to be airtight. Keep the jars stored in a cool dry area in your pantry or cupboard and every 6 months, dry the chillies once again in a flat tray to remove any moisture that may have built up. Remember to completely cool the chillies before storing them once again.
Ripe red chillies
1 tsp vegetable oil
- Wash and dry your fresh chillies till there is no visible moisture or residue on them. Leave them to air dry in a cool dry place for up to 3 hours
- In a flat tray (large enough to evenly distribute all the chillies) place the chillies and coat them thoroughly with oil, making sure all chillies are covered
- Cover the tray with a muslin or cheesecloth and place it in direct sunlight (for 2-3 days or till the chillies become dry and crisp)
- Allow the chillies to cool completely and store them in sterilised glass bottles. You can sterilise glass jars by dipping them into boiling water and letting them dry completely before use
- You can store chillies for up to 12 months. In 3 months, if you still have some chillies remaining, put them in direct sunlight once again to freshen them up and store once again in their glass jars.