If you have an excess of spicy peppers to harvest from your home garden, drying them is a simple way to preserve them once collected.
One of the most well-known New Mexican traditions is stringing Chile peppers together to create a gorgeous and flavorful decoration called ristras.
When dried and properly cared for, these strings will last all winter long and add color and spice to your holiday decor. These ristras are hung in the kitchen to dry the red Chile for cooking.
These decorative strings of chiles can be given as gifts and appreciated by many people. In this article, we will tell you how to make a ristra.
Making a ristra, a hanging bundle that doubles as a pepper drier and decoration, is a fun and quick way to dry many peppers. Different chiles are strung together in a ristra, including cayenne peppers, jalapeños and Big Jim peppers.
In American Southwest and Mexico, abundant chile harvests were once dried merely by laying them out on the ground, leaving them exposed to birds and insects.
The ristra was created to avoid these issues, but it has since evolved into a sign of welcome, good fortune, and good health. Here’s how to make a Ristra.
To make your ristras, you’ll need the following supplies:
- Freshly picked Chile peppers, preferably round or ‘ball’ pepper varieties
- Black string or thread
- Small nails to hang your finished ristra
- Scissors for cutting stems
- A sharp knife
- Start by selecting your round pepper variety. Any mild to medium heat level will work well, but remember that the longer the pepper grows, the hotter it will become. You can also use longer ‘torpedo’ peppers, but they are usually harvested for their seeds and hotter than round varieties.
- Harvesting Chile peppers at just the right time can be difficult. If you wait too long to pick your peppers, they will become large and tough and not dry well. They can be less colorful if you harvest too early and pack less heat. To avoid making mistakes, consult with a seasoned pepper grower or your local Cooperative Extension office for advice on when to harvest your particular Chile pepper variety.
- Cut the stems as close as possible to the bottom of the peppers. If you are using chiles that tend to grow in a bushy manner, try to harvest them, so they all hang straight down.
- Cut off about 16-18 inches of black string or thread, and cut your first nail at this point. Drive the nail into the wall horizontally, ensuring it is securely in place. The ristra should be long enough so that the bottom row of chiles is between 6-8 inches from the floor.
- Start stringing your chiles vertically, placing them about an inch apart. When you get to the end of your first row, tie off the string with a double knot and cut away any excess length.
- Continue adding chiles, stringing them on horizontally and tying off the string when you get to the end of each row.
- You can stagger your chile pepper placement for an added appeal or place all the chiles in rows that hang straight down. You can also use different color peppers for variety.
- Just make sure they are dry before stringing them. Blanch the peppers before beginning the drying process by boiling them in water for 3 to 5 minutes and immediately immersing them in freezing water. This process improves the flavor of the food. After that, let them dry before continuing.
- The chiles will dry in full sun for three days or until they are no longer pliable. When possible, they should be air-dried in the shade to avoid dark spots forming on your peppers.
- When you have finished stringing all of your peppers, cut any excess thread or string between each chile and make one last double knot to secure your ristra.
- Begin hanging the ristra by using a piece of string or thread to tie a slipknot around
- The first chile, and then use the same thread to hang it from your horizontal nail. Continue this way until you have completed one row, then begin on the next row, hanging each Chile about an inch below the previous one until you have completed all of your rows.
- Hang your finished ristra in a well-ventilated room with lots of light, but avoid direct sunlight.
- Over the next three to four weeks, your chiles will dry into perfect ristras. Ristras will last a long time when properly cared for and make a perfect addition to your home decor.
- To prevent the remainder of the peppers from rotting, remove any that begin to rot throughout the drying process. If there isn’t enough airflow, this can happen.
- Clip the stem or cap underneath where you pierced it to remove peppers as needed.
Care Tips for Ristras
- Hang your ristra in a shady to a sunny location that is well ventilated and where the peppers can get adequate airflow to dry.
- Hang your ristra from a nail, screw or other support that does not touch the peppers.
- Keep the air circulating around your ristra; that is why it is important not to hang them where they are touching or too close to each other – this will cause the peppers to rot.
- If your ristras need a little more color, you can hang them outside in the direct sunlight for a few hours to give them a boost.
- If your ristra is not drying well or starts to rot, you can dry it by the fire and smoke it for a couple of days until it dries out.
- To lengthen the life of your ristra, store them in a covered paper bag or box between uses. This will also help to keep them mostly dust-free.
- When you bring your ristra inside, hang it in a room temperature area for one or two days to re-adjust it to the humidity levels inside your home.
If one of the chiles drops off by chance, you can dry it and use it in your favorite recipe or add it to a dish for an extra spicy kick.
- To keep spiders and bugs away, hang your ristras above the reach of children and pets.
- If you want to preserve your ristra for as long as possible, place it in a bag of rice to keep the peppers dry and away from moisture.
Making a ristra may appear difficult at first until you get the knack of it; it’s much easy than you think. Plus, your hard effort pays off in the form of this festive décor, which you may later devour.
Learning how to make a ristra is fun and easy, and it’s the perfect way to decorate for your next party or gathering. You can also make a wonderful gift by ristra-ing up a batch of chile treats and gifting them to friends and family.
Now that you know how to make your very own ristras, you will be amazed at your ability to transform this beautiful and festive décor.
There is no specific time of year in which they should be made. However, they are most commonly made in the late summer or early fall when chiles are still in season and available in local markets.