A tale of two chillies

Un conte de deux piments, eine Geschichte von zwei Chilis, Historia de dos ajís, Scéal faoi dhá chillí

Well, more like ten chillies. This season I’m growing: rocoto canario, pusa jwala, cayenne, bishop’s crown, lal mirch (generic Indian variety; cayenne?) and hari mirch (large green chillies that you can buy from the Indian etc. greengocers) from seed. With the canario, I already have two large bushes, but couldn’t resist the temptation to grow more from seed. The cayennes were grown from fruits that had been left on the bush too long last winter. They were supposed to be Joe’s long cayenne, but there’s nothing longer about them than regular cayennes. The hari mirch were grown from a purchase where among the green fruits I was choosing for stuffing, there was a redder, riper, wirnkled fruit that looked like it might yield something fertile. It did.

So how did they do? I took some of them to work in small punnets (which are now hard to come by, and expensive when you do) and grew them on a sunny windowsill. Even though the windows are tinted, the seedlings still got a fair amount of light and warmth. They did quite well, except for the pusa jwala. Only three out of ten or so sprouted and looked rather poorly. However, they have now recovered and look healthy, just a few weeks behind the others. Maybe they just needed more heat? The canario seedlings are unsuprisingly larger, and the bishop’s crowns look like they were meant to grow in our climate.

I also bought a plant each of padrón, pasilla bajio (chilaca), ají limon and poblano. Couldn’t resist. In for a penny, in for a pound. And in this part of the world at least, the Central and South American varieties don’t get much of a look-in. Having said that, I’m going to try the canarios in an Indian-style curry. Even though last season’s harvest wasn’t big, I still have a bag of them quartered and frozen. Have to try them stuffed next time.

Some of the seedlings with the papalo in the middle.

Do I have room for all those plants? Some have gone into the vegetable beds which next year will be reverted to garden (non-veggie) beds. We bought two raised beds and have finally filled them with soil and planted them up, but these are for the sweet corn, French beans, courgettes and cucumbers. Why raised beds? Our soil is nutrient-poor, sandy and often rocky. I remember a character in a French movie explaining that if you’ve got poor soil, adding things to it won’t make it good soil. That’s debatable and depends on so many variables, but when it comes to growing veggies, I’m trying the raised beds and growing more things in pots this season to see if they fare any better. I’m hoping to become self-sufficient in both chili powder (we’ll call the deviation in spelling “code switching” here) and frozen/dried, too. Having said that, I’ve just found a bag of frozen green ones (a self-sown variety, green, thin and “medium hot”) underneath the bag of frozen canario segments. No danger of running out of frozen ones for a while…

Talking of adding things to soil, about half of the chillies have distorted leaves. A little research suggested that they may need calcium, so they all had a sprinkling of gypsum. It may be insects sucking on the new leaves, but the gypsum shouldn’t do any harm. Even the worst looking ones have buds, so I’ll leave them in.

Anything to go with the chillies? Yep – tomatillos and papalo. Actually the latter is Porophyllum ruderale / quillquiña, but more or less the same as papalo except for the leaf size. This produced seeds in abundance a couple of years ago, but didn’t self-seed. However, the ones I saved had a good germination rate.

re tomatillos: one source stated they should be surface-sown. I tried this and also sowing them with a light (but not sparse) covering. It made no difference to the success rate, which was good. Let’s see how they do in the garden.

Yellow rocoto chilli

Capsicum pubescens, piment rocoto, Rocoto, manzano, chili úll geal

There’s no doubting the botanical name, but after that things become a little debatable… Some sources hold that manazano and rocoto chillies are the same, whereas others state that they are different varieties of the same species. Are manzanos the squatter ones and rocotos the longer ones? Either way, the ones I’m growing are yellow. One thing that is definite: although they grow on a large shrub, they aren’t “chile de árbol”.

What makes these different to other chillies I’ve grown are that 1. they’re perennial, 2. they grow on a large shrub 3. the type of heat and 4. their preference for the cooler weather.

Hmm… two shapes on this one… (unripe fruits)

I bought a plant a few years ago, and it never came to much, even when I put it in the shade house. It grw tall, but not bushy, and produced a solitary, small fruit. Persistence has paid off, as well as planting them (I grew another from a cutting) down the side of the house which is shadier.

Trying a green one – the first that came to any size – there was no spice to be had. Ni nada. Then, a few weeks later, they started turning yellow. It was as though I could feel the heat enveloping my fingers when I cut into one. Tasting it produced a look of, “Ayayay! These ones are HOT, mamacita!” apparently. I think that would sum up the feeling of total mouth burn.

About 20% of the total expected harvest. Small, but it’ll last.

Yes, a different type of heat that doesn’t just affect the part of the tongue that comes into contact with the fruit, but the whole mouth cavity. One alone in a feijoada was enough to provide spiciness without feeling you were eating a mutant vindaloo. And no five-minute tears, either. Yep, I like my spice, but not chilihead contest levels.

The seeds are very dark and the walls of the fruit are quite thick; I read that they are difficult to dry. These will be sliced and de-seeded, then frozen for later use.

re the spelling… I’ve left chilihead with one ‘l not because it’s Christmas, but I believe the expression came from that side of the Atlantic. Also, the Irish name is my invention. As always, I’m open (gratefully) to correction.