A Few Varieties…and Counting
Not everybody loves spicy food. However, if you grew up eating it or having grown used to the heat, it’s hard to live without it. Most of the food I grew up with is spicy, including dessert and snacks. And chili peppers? We have countless kinds with different shapes, colors, and degrees of heat. Chili peppers are a staple in every household. I can say unequivocally that where I came from, a home without chili peppers is not really a home.
So, growing chili peppers is not an option for me; it’s a MUST. I started by growing what I know and am used to in my cooking. Then, I’ve learned that there are many more varieties of chili peppers on this planet than I can count. Thanks to the book Complete Chile Pepper Book: A Gardener’s Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking by Dave DeWitt & Paul W. Bosland, and the Union Square farmers market, I have expanded my growing list annually. I grew twelve different kinds last year. It was, so far, the best year yet. This year, I grew only nine varieties and it was not a good year for growing peppers either. The vegetable garden was invaded by cherry tomatoes (I couldn’t bring myself to pull up the self-sown seedlings) and the weather hadn’t helped. With too much rain and too little sunlight, most pepper plants will have black spots on their leaves, drop flowers, and the fruits, if any, take forever to mature.
The growing condition was not ideal and the threatened early frost forced me to harvest all of them before the frost hit. Frost burned chili peppers will turn black and mushy. Basically, it was a disappointing year for growing chili peppers.
I can’t complain much because what bore fruit and ripened were enough to keep us happy until next year and provide enough to give to friends and neighbors. The chili powder I made this year may not be as good as the previous years since a lot of the peppers I had dried were not fully ripe. There were not as many Bhut Jolokia peppers, one of the top heat producers, in the mix either. But a few of the Trinidad Scorpion peppers should help bring up the heat. So we tell our friends to add a couple of pinches, not just one pinch, to their food and we don’t have to put the warning on the label either.
I grew this Trinidad Scorpion (Capsicum chinense) pepper for the first time this year. It’s holding status as one of the hottest peppers in the world with a Scoville heat index over 1,000,000 units , the same range as the Bhut Jolokia (below) which held the record alone for several years. This one has just started to ripen. I usually taste a new chili by biting into it, then spitting it out, like wine tasting. This way I know how spicy it is before I use it in cooking. I was careful with the Trinidad Scorpion. I just touched my tongue with the knife I used to cut it and I could feel the heat within a second and it lasted for longer than I would wish.
Bhut Jolokia (Capsicum chinense), the Ghost pepper, didn’t even have a chance to turn red. I grew some of them in pots this year as an experiment and had to get them inside the house earlier than expected. The ones in the garden hardly produced anything since they were shadowed by tomatoes.
Caribbean Red didn’t have a chance to turn red either, but the green are spicy enough. They also had black spots on the leaves since they were shaded by tomatoes.
I have plenty of Lemon Drop (Capsicum baccatum) this year and a lot of them have ripened to a canary yellow. It was good in the sense since the Wild Brazilian seedlings were eaten by slugs so the Lemon Drops will lend the powder a lemony scent.
I grew this Sikkamese chili pepper for the first time too. My former boss and current friend gave me the seeds. I’m still trying to get its actual name by showing it to friends and colleagues who come from India, Nepal and Tibet. I’ll be glad to learn what this pepper is called in their native land.
Purira is very interesting. The color turns from pale yellow to yellow with purple highlights, then orange and bright red at the end. A pretty hot one too.
This type of Thai chili pepper (Capsicum annum) did well. Maybe too well in that it held the weight of too many peppers and bent over squashing the strawberries.
Most of these peppers didn’t have a chance to fully mature. A few of them didn’t even make it to full grown plants. The seedlings of Chocolate Habanero, Wild Brazilian, Bird Dropping Thai chili peppers (the smallest type) were eaten by slugs.
‘Note to myself:’ Be more disciplined in pulling tomatoes out next year, give the peppers and cucumbers a break.