We often keep strands of dried peppers, called ristras, hanging in the kitchen, however, it wasn’t until we were faced with a bushel of them that we had the chance to make our own. Beyond the cultural mash-up of making Southwestern ristras from Japanese Shishito peppers grown in Maine, this seemed a convenient way of drying and storing them at the same time.
Not all of the peppers we picked were fully red. Some recommend placing them in a paper bag with a piece of ethylene-producing fruit, such as an apple or green tomato, to further the process. We found just leaving the peppers out at room temperature was enough to give the peppers a chance to redden up on their own.
The strand shown at top was our first attempt at following a traditional way of stringing them together. The peppers are tied together in bunches of three, with some space left between the groupings. For a fuller appearance, the ristra may be doubled up on itself to fill in the gaps. The peppers should be left out for a couple of days to allow their stems to lose some moisture but remain flexible enough for stringing together; the pre-drying helps to keep the peppers more secure once they’re tied together. As we made our way through the bushel, we altered this technique and found it easier to handle the peppers by slip-knotting the first stem of each grouping of three.
Had we known ahead of time that we were going to be making ristras, we would have made sure to leave the pepper stems as long as possible. At the end, we gathered the short-stemmed ones, threaded a needle, and sewed them together into a strand, Colonial style. As it turns out, this was a quicker method than tying them, though it remains to be seen if this tighter-spaced bunch dries as well as than the rest.
Save for the last one, the strands are made up of 5 to 7 groupings of 3 peppers each, for a total of 15 to 21 peppers per ristra. It takes 3 to 8 weeks for the peppers to dry, and we liked the idea of hanging them over the wood stove to quicken the process, or a fireplace to impart some smokiness. Unfortunately, to avoid a repeat of the string incident, neither place would have put them far enough out of the reach of our cats.