Fish Pepper

Another couple weeks and I can start germinating tomatoes and chili peppers inside the house.  We live in the northeastern part of the US, roughly USDA Zone 6, so we have around 6 months or less of warm weather to grow our vegetables.  If we don’t start the seedlings in the house around the end of March there will not be enough time for them to bare fruit and ripen.  Starting to germinate them earlier than this, the seedlings will be too lanky when it’s time to put them in the ground around May.

Growing up eating spicy food, chili pepper is a staple in our kitchen.  The love of spicy food extends to the love for a variety of peppers. I experiment with one or two new peppers every season.  If I like them, I keep the seeds to grow the next season.  If I don’t like them, it’s ‘one and done.’  As of now I’ve grown at least 13 different types of pepper.  They range from extremely spicy like Bhut Jolokia to sweet pepper like baby bell pepper.

Mature chili peppers from last season. A mix of Bhut Jolokia, Lemon drop, Sikkim, Bhutan, Yellow torch, Long Thai pepper, Black Jalapeño, Purira, Buena Mulata (grew the Buena Mulata for the first time last year)
Tiny Thai chili pepper a.k.a Bird eye, a.k.a. Mouse drop. This chili is our kitchen staple. I can use it in many dishes: stir-fry, salad, condiment, hot sauce, dried and ground to a powder. It’s only .5 to .75 inches long but don’t let its size fool you. It packs a punch.
Wild Brazil is another staple in our kitchen. Another tiny chili with a lot of heat, plus citrusy scent. It never gets bigger than .5 inch. These I use in anything I want to have a spicy and lemony scent. Also great for making hot sauce and chili powder.

One of the peppers I fell in love with is Fish pepper.  I grew it for the first time  two years ago. I first learned about the Fish pepper in a free local magazine, either Edible Manhattan or Edible Queens, not sure exactly which one.  I picked the magazine up at the farmer’s market, read the article about Fish Pepper which prompted my search for the seeds.  I was lucky to find organic seedlings at one of the farmer’s stands.  I was warned not to grow them next to other peppers because the next generation may not look and taste like the parents.

Fish pepper with beautiful variegated leaves
Peppers are also variegated. The young ones are a pale yellow with green stripes
Mature fruit will turn red but will still have faintly faded stripes

I think after seeing these images, most of you can see why I fell in love with them. The beautiful variegated leaves and fruit worth being used as an ornamental plant. But it happens to work great with all types of seafood, hence the name. And, we love seafood. The information I found about this pepper claimed that it originated in the Caribbean and was brought to the US in the 19th century. It has a medium heat so one pepper is enough for a small seafood pot.

I’ll grow it again this year from the seeds I collected last season. The new generation should look like their parents above. I grow them in pots and move them far from the vegetable garden. I did the same with the first generation and it seemed to work. I don’t need a Fish pepper that tastes like Ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia).

Chili Peppers

A Good Year

I have fun growing chili peppers and continue searching for new varieties to add to my collection.  Growing varieties of chili peppers stems from my love for spicy food.  This year I grew fourteen kinds of chili peppers, plus Hungarian paprika, Little bell pepper and Baby bell pepper.  I ran out of space basically.  As much as I love peppers, I needed to grow some other vegetables too and I have to fence them all in.  To my surprise, deer and rabbits eat chili pepper too.  They leveled my neighbor’s peppers as well as what I left outside the fence.

We have plenty of chili peppers this year and hopefully they will ripen before the first frost.  This growing season has been a little shorter than the previous year and there have been plenty of days that are cooler than normal.  Chili peppers grow well when it is hot, however the flowers will drop and the growth stunted when it’s cold.  The temperature has dropped below 50º F. for the last couple of nights so there are not that many ripened chilies as there were a week ago.

I have picked some early ripe ones but there still plenty of green chilies out there, especially the Karen (tribal in Southeast Asia), Himalayan yellow, and Bhut Jolokia.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another few weeks hoping for above 50º F temperatures.

I freeze most of the ripe peppers to be used during the off-season.  When I know that the first frost will come in a day or two, I cut all the chilies, green included, then dry, roast, and grind them for friends and colleagues who also love spicy food.  I sprinkle the resulting chili powder on everything from noodle soup to pizza. As far as I know, spicy food in moderation is supposed to be good for your immune system.

My Tibetan friends brought seeds of this Sikkim chili pepper back from India for me.  It has a heart shape, about the size of large cherry.  It's spicy.
My Tibetan friends brought seeds of this Sikkim chili pepper back from India for me. It has a heart shape, about the size of large cherry. It’s spicy.

Lemon Drop, a bright Canary yellow with citrus scent
Lemon Drop, a bright Canary yellow with citrus scent

Wild Brazil, very small Canary yellow chili with citrus scent.  The plant is very short, about six inches in height
Wild Brazil, very small Canary yellow chili with citrus scent. The plant is very short, about six inches in height

Small size Thai chilies, around three quarters of an inch but don't underestimate the heat
Small size Thai chilies, around three quarters of an inch but don’t underestimate the heat

This yellow Thai chili is long and very skinny.  It's spicy but not as much as the small red one above
This yellow Thai chili is long and very skinny. It’s spicy but not as much as the small red one above

Only two of this Korean chili have ripened so far.  This is the chili that is used in Kimchi
Only two of this Korean chili have ripened so far. This is the chili that is used in Kimchi

Indian Jwala chili is around two inches long, good both fresh and dry
Indian Jwala chili is around two inches long, good both fresh and dry

Jamaican Red chili has just started to ripen.  I skipped the yellow kind this year
Jamaican Red chili has just started to ripen. I skipped the yellow kind this year

Himalayan chili, another grown from seeds a friend brought back. Supposed to be spicy but none of them have ripened yet so I can't really tell
Himalayan chili, another grown from seeds a friend brought back. Supposed to be spicy but none of them have ripened yet so I can’t really tell

This long Thai chili can grow from 3.5 to 5 inches.  It's not as spicy as the little one
This long Thai chili can grow from 3.5 to 5 inches. It’s not as spicy as the little one

Bhut Jolokia or Ghost pepper was ranked the hottest pepper in the world a few years ago.  Now a couple of peppers have surpassed it but I settled on this one.
Bhut Jolokia or Ghost pepper was ranked the hottest pepper in the world a few years ago. Now a couple of peppers have surpassed it but I settled on this one.

The color of Purira chili is very interesting. It starts from creamy yellow, then a splash of purple, then orange and bright red at the end.  It's lovely as an ornamental plant as well
The color of Purira chili is very interesting. It starts from creamy yellow, then a splash of purple, then orange and bright red at the end. It’s lovely as an ornamental plant as well

This tiny Thai chili or 'Prik-Kee-Nu' (mouse dropping) is around .5 inch long or smaller but packs a lot of heat
This tiny Thai chili or ‘Prik-Kee-Nu’ (mouse dropping) is around .5 inch long or smaller but packs a lot of heat

I have no idea what this one will taste like. It's supposed to be a  Jamaican Red but since I let nature have its own way, this is the outcome. It may be cross pollinated between anything with Jamaican Red. A surprise.
I have no idea what this one will taste like. It’s supposed to be a Jamaican Red but since I let nature have its own way, this is the outcome. It may be cross pollinated between anything with Jamaican Red. A surprise.

And, yes, my stomach lining is still intact.  Moderation is the key.

 

Chili Pepper

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.

Yummy combination of chili peppers

Trinidad Scorpion, supposed to be one of the hottest peppers in the world

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.

The Bhut Jolokia was pretty disappointing compared to last year

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 (Capsicum chinense), the fruits still green.

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.

Lemon Drops did well this year as they received enough sun

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.

This one was originally from Sikkim, India and did well too.

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.

The third generation of Purira pepper did very well.

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.

Thai peppers (long version) in various stages

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.

Thai (short version) drop their leaves when they get too wet

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.

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