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Picking Korean chilli peppers to make Gochugaru

My cooking philosophy is when in doubt, stick another spoonful of gochugaru chilli powder in there. I use A LOT of gochugaru. But I’m lucky because I never have to buy chilli powder since my parents-in-law grow enough chillies to keep us going for the year!

See the colours on the farm in autumn

So this weekend we thought it only fair to go over over to Gangwon-do and help them pick the chillies!

The house has a spicy sweet aroma. When I first came here, I wondered what it was, even though the Santa sacks full of dried chilli peppers dotted around the room should have given me a clue!

Actually, the plants have already given us several batches of large green chillies this year (which we usually eat with a ssamjang soybean paste dip) but now the chillies have turned a fiery shade of red. Yet despite the dazzling colour, their flavour is mild and sweet.

My parents-in-law used to dry the chillies naturally out in the sun. But carting them out in the daytime and then back indoors at night is a palaver which takes time and effort and you can’t always rely on the weather, either.

There’s been a lot of rain this year, which would have made sun-drying the chillies a real headache. But these days the chillies go in the drying machine.

Once they are dried, they’ll be off to the market to be ground into gochugaru, chilli powder.

red chilli peppers that will be dried and ground into gochugaru

But first they have to be picked, so we change into our workwear…

There’s a selection of our old clothes to choose from. Shirts with frayed cuffs too exhausted for Seoul have retired to the countryside to work in the field or become part of the scarecrow’s wardrobe. Plastic gloves and an old green supermarket shopping basket finish off the look. 

The radio plays 24 hours a day from speakers around the field to keep the wild boars away!

In the greenhouse I’m half listening as I comb through the spicy leaves pulling the chillies from the stalks and dropping them into my shopping basket. Careful not to pick any that are still a bit green.

Unfortunately, the chilli leaves are too big and tough now to make chilli leaf namul side dishes.


By 11am it’s getting a bit sweaty in the greenhouse. We’ve filled several shopping baskets which are wheelbarrowed up to be washed in the big rubber bath – the same one that will be used in a couple of months time to make kimchi

Next we are assigned the most important job of scrutinising each chilli before it’s dried. Any with even the tiniest hole must be thrown away IMMEDIATELY. Even if the peppers look perfect in every other way. After all, the last thing you want is to have ground caterpillars (or whatever they are) in your gochugaru.

Although I suppose that would be added protein.

While I’m engrossed in my crate of chillies, there’s a moan of horror next to me. And a chilli comes flying by before crashing to the ground. It’s been broken in half and what looks like a mini snake is peaking out. 😂 😂


Excitement over, the chillies are spread out evenly on a ground sheet and left to dry off for a few hours in the sun. Then before sunset we’ll put them on a tray and into the drying machine where they’ll stay for a day or so.

Later they’ll be crushed into gochugaru chilli flakes. But for now, our job here is done.

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