Red Hot Chili Peppers - in Bottles
I was fortunate to spend a lot of time helping my grandparents on their small farm as I was growing up. They were avid gardeners and dabbled with a variety of plants. Of all the fruits and vegetables they grew, one such plant caught my eye. This particular interest was in the red chili pepper.
My interest in the plant stemmed from a variety of reasons. I found the plant itself to be peculiar and beautiful. It was lovely to see the 18-inch high plant contrasting its green leaves against a slew of red peppers erected towards the sky like little rockets ready to be shot off. The sheer heat and pain that such a small pepper could cause your mouth was also intriguing. The fiery red color was appropriate for the burning sensation they could cause when being eaten. However, the most interesting part of the peppers was the potential of money. Yes, the possibility to make money was very exciting to my twelve-year-old self.
I had seen chili peppers stuffed into bottles and being sold for decorative purposes in stores. I figured this was an endeavor I could take on. I already knew how to grow the peppers, and I figured that would be the hardest part. The next spring, I planted seeds for about fifteen plants. I was determined to start my own little pepper bottling business. I began collecting old bottles that were uniquely shaped and interesting.
Growing the peppers was relatively simple. The plants started well, and when the end of May rolled around, they could be planted outside in the garden. After a month and a half, they were larger and producing a good amount of peppers. I would pick every other day and immediately start making bottles. Once the peppers were picked, they had to be cleaned off to make sure they were not dirty or had any damage. Then, the arduous process of stuffing the bottles began. It took time and patience to jam the tiny peppers into little bottles and make them look good. After the bottle was full of peppers, I filled it with vinegar. I would have to keep adding vinegar to the bottles for a few weeks as the peppers slowly absorbed it. After all that, I would seal the bottle with a cork. Luckily, I was able to find a local craft store in town that would sell my product for me.
After the first year was successful, I began to expand. I had up to 50 plants some years. I continued to this operation for several years and constantly bettered the process. I learned the little tricks that helped to make my business more successful. I began to poke tiny holes in the peppers when I was putting them into the bottles, so they would absorb the vinegar more quickly. I could use a chopstick to help pack the peppers into the bottle more tightly. I also learned that I could find unique old bottles at garage sales for much cheaper to lower my overhead. Old liquor bottles were extremely popular when stuffed full of peppers. To add to both the aesthetic and practical values, I dipped the top of the bottle in bee’s wax to seal it better.
My pepper business was something that never would get me rich, but it kept me busy for a couple summers and provided me with some money on the side. The pepper bottles were a popular item at the store, and I was often asked about them after I stopped the production. While some people would just use the bottles as decorative pieces, other people would eat the peppers or use the vinegar to spice up their cooking. It was a very enjoyable hobby for me while it lasted, and I am happy that I had the opportunity to do it for a few years.