Do you use paprika for a lot of your cooking? It’s great in potato salad, stir fry, and let’s not forget Hungarian Goulash. Did you know that making your own paprika is easy? And the taste is like nothing that you can get in the store. The key is growing the right peppers.
Which Pepper Variety Should You Grow?
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I’ve been making my own paprika for years and I will only use one pepper variety because it is truly the best. Magyar peppers are the only ones I use. Don’t bother growing anything else if you are interested in the best paprika you will ever have. If you order, be sure to use a reliable seed company. I use Renee’s seeds for this variety.
I’ve been able to grow three summers worth of plants from one packet. Most guides will tell you that pepper seeds will only last for two years, but if you have plenty of seed left, all you have to do is plant more allowing for the probability of less seeds germinating.
How Many Plants Should I Grow?
If you like a lot of paprika, consider growing 5-10 plants. Even as few as 3-5 plants will give you a decent amount. The truth of the matter is that you want your homemade paprika to run out about the time you are making more. I’ve grown as many as 10 plants and still run out of paprika by around March. The reason for this is because we usually make one or two meals of Hungarian Goulash over the winter and it requires a lot of paprika! After a few years, I try to grow a minimum of 10 plants per year for our household.
For your first time, you may want to keep things small and see if you like the difference in taste between homemade and store bought.
Specific Growing Considerations
Let’s talk about the differences between Magyars and other peppers. Here in my northern Zone 4 garden, I’ve settled on a few varieties that mature early. Realize that Magyars are not one of those. They take a little bit longer than most of my peppers and I coddle them a bit because of it.
In general, they need about two additional weeks of growing time to harvest rich burgundy red peppers. I plan my growing season from about June 1st to September 1st though. In 2020 I had a hard frost on September 7th so that was still an extra week than I usually plan for.
Magyars aren’t huge peppers in my garden and I keep them in a protected area to make sure they aren’t blown over by winds or beaten up by occasional hail. Even when these plants are growing well, they want to tip over or at least lean over, so I will often use supports to keep them upright. The best method, though, is to protect them from the wind. It’s truly a balancing act with the wind, because too much can knock them over but just the right amount has them growing with sturdy stems.
If I had a greenhouse, this would be a pepper I’d keep in containers in the greenhouse all summer and they’d keep maturing to the end of September. I’m not one of those lucky ones, though, so I’ve taken to growing all of these peppers in large containers so that I can move them into the garage if needed for early frost or those storms that push through with highs winds and hail.
These peppers aren’t that fragile, though, they just need a little more tender loving care than my other plants. And the result is worth it.
Harvesting and Drying
Harvest these peppers while they are still firm and are completely red. I’ve been forced to harvest some peppers that still showed some green spots and the paprika still tasted wonderful. This should be kept to a minimum, though, or the color of the finished product will suffer.
If you’ve read “Make Your Own Chili Powder,” then you know the next steps. Drying the peppers is very important and can be done in one of two ways. You can use your oven with no precautions as I’ve recommended when drying hot peppers. The odor will still be strong when you dry these peppers, it just won’t be as pungent.
Drying in the oven should be done at the lowest temperature possible, usually somewhere around 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit is typical. At this temperature, it will take several hours but don’t leave them without checking them often. Once they get close to being dry, they can be done quickly. Also let them cool before you check for the crispy, crunchy stage you are looking for. If they are warm, they may still show some pliancy that is misleading.
If using a dehydrator designed for the purpose of drying vegetables, fruits, and meats, then you will have instructions. Follow the guide for your particular dehydrator as far as setting the temperature and time for drying. Temperature settings for dehydrators can be set lower than your oven so there is much less chance of any burning or unwanted char on the peppers. The good news is that you can get an inexpensive dehydrator that still does an excellent job.
The good news is that dehydrating Magyar peppers doesn’t require putting the unit outside unless it is more convenient for you. This differs from drying hot chili peppers so that’s a bonus.
Once the peppers are dried to that crunchy stage where there is no give left in the pieces of pepper, you are ready to grind them up into paprika.
While some people grind the dried peppers in a blender or food processor, the best method that I’ve found is to use a small coffee grinder. You’ll be grinding them into a powder in small batches. Don’t overfill the coffee grinder because you won’t get the fine powder consistency that you’re looking for.
Place the powder in glass spice jars with the name and date you prepared it. Consider growing extra and giving small portions away as gifts. It’s a great way to share the bounty of the garden with friends and family.
I found this Kilner jar in my local store, or you can purchase more fancy ones online.
It truly is that simple. Grow, harvest, dry, and grind to a powder. There is nothing better than opening up that jar in the middle of winter and smelling the rich fragrance of fresh peppers. It makes me smile remembering all I went through to provide the bounty for the perfect dish.