Growing ‘Piment d’Espelette’ Peppers

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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Photo bylabordebrana/Pixabay

On a recent episode of Fine Cooking filmed in the Paris apartment of Patricia Wells, Ms. Wells was whipping up a chimichurri sauce for the steaks. As she took a pinch from a jar, she noted: “This is ‘Espelette’ pepper. I grow the peppers on my farm in Provence and grind them myself.” Unfortunately, I don’t have a farm in Provence, but I do have one in Texas. Today, I am confined to a great container garden and I do grow the ‘Espelette’ Pepper, dry and grind it myself.

My recipes very often list “Espelette, if available” in the ingredients. ‘Espelette’ pepper is somewhat like the familiar Italian-style red pepper flakes, but sweeter and fruitier. It tastes more like ripe peppers. ‘Espelette’ has about the same heat as ground black pepper.

Years ago, I found the seeds at a small seed company, but that source disappeared. Last year, I finally found the seeds again from Jim Duffy at Refining Fire Chiles, a passionate young pepper farmer. This year, he still has ‘Espelette’ but also a new category: Peppers of France and Spain! I’ve ordered a few new varieties from him — very exciting.

The new French and Spanish varieties appear to be mostly mild or sweet peppers.

Save money. I have found ‘Espelette’ pepper in powder form. It’s usually about $14 per ounce. Grow your own. You’ll love the peppery flavor in so many recipes.

How to Grow Piment d’Espelette Pepper in a Home Garden

Plant seeds in the germination tray for your choice method at least eight weeks ahead of your plant-out date. Grow out nice seedlings using organic fertilizers.

When it’s time to move seedlings outside in your area, set the plants out about 2 feet apart in the rows. I have to container garden now, so I plant 3 pepper plants per GrowBox (see The Grow Box) and see insert in the February/March 2018 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Keep well fertilized with an organic preparation specific to tomatoes and peppers. (The plants can get floppy but seem OK.)

When peppers form, be patient. Let the peppers get completely red and ripe. I pick as they ripen and put them on a dehydrator tray. When the tray is filled, turn on the dehydrator and dry them until they are completely brittle, which can take two days.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can string the peppers with a big needle and strong or doubled thread to hang from hooks in a clean, dry area. Then put them into a very low oven, about 225 degrees, until brittle.

Photo by Wendy Akin

When completely dry, store the peppers in an airtight zipper bag until the season is finished. When they’re all dry, pull off the stem ends, empty out the seeds and then grind the peppers. You could use a spice grinder, but with any quantity, the food processor is more practical. Grind and grind until the peppers are a flake-y powder.

It’s handy to wear a face mask, but regardless, shake and pat the processor and let it stand a bit to settle the powder. Carefully, holding your breath, empty the powder into a jar. I then make several 4-ounce jars for family and friends. Label the jars. Keep your jar handy to the stove — you’ll use it a lot.

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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