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.

Drying the harvest

I choose wine by the quality (together with the price), but when the bottle comes in an organza bag, that’s an added bonus. I now have a sizeable collection and there’s always at least one hanging on the washing line at any time of the year. In summer there can be baga good half-dozen.

Leaves are generally tied in a bundle to hang off the laundry door for a week or so, but when flowers are plucked one or a small handful at a time, they go into the wine bags (gift bags, not goon bags) on the back wire of the clothes line where they get shade 24/7. This also goes for tagetes heads which would otherwise shed hundreds of seeds over the floor.

I originally spread some wire fencing over the “rafters” in the shed, placed flyscreen wire on top and spread dahlia flowers over that to dry. Now I find that if there are not too many in one golemon myrtle, they too can go into a wine bag. This is only practical in summer, where they can dry within a day; in winter the tree dahlia heads go mouldy when piled into a bag.

And avocado pits? When a colleague donates them on a daily basis, they stay on my desk shelf at work and dry well without going mouldy. Easy! At home they get put into a bag along with the skins – after going over both with a nail brush to get rid of any remaining flesh.

On the right: half-a-year’s harvest of lemon myrtle from the 50cm-high specimen in a pot. I remember buying 100g of these about 18 years ago when they were $50/kg! Although they’re not native to SA, they’re really easy to grow both in pot and in open ground.

Za’atar – Thymbra spicata

zaatar3I originally came across this plant in Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs many moons ago, and after the internet took off, started searching for it high and low. I was very kindly sent a small cutting by an interstate nursery with an order, but one day of typical Adelaide summer weather put pay to that. Then a couple of years ago,  I was able to order a couple of packets of seeds from a US nursery. This was after waiting for AQIS to list it as a permitted import, which they did quite quickly as they’d had a number of requests about the plant. How’s that for a government department!

I only managed to grow one plant to maturity from the first sowingzaatar-flower, but it produced enough seeds for me to grow a second run this year (which was good as I’d misplaced the packets). This time I thought more about the conditions it would need: a plant from mountains in the Mediterranean and Middle East… The seeds were sown on top of potting compost with a thin covering of vermiculite.

Success! A baker’s dozen meant that I had enough to grow a decent crop for us and pass on plants to interested parties including the “local” herb nursery: Hillside Herbs at McLaren Vale. I’ll also be contacting the nursery that originally sent me a cutting.

zaatar-dryingSo, what’s it used for? There’s zatar (funny, that) – the spicy mixture for dipping bread (after a dip in olive oil), and no doubt any other recipe that calls for some herbal zip. I’ve asked a number of acquaintances from the Middle East what they would use it for, but they tell me that za’atar is thyme, or Syrian oregano. It could be any one of a number of plants, including Satureja. I guess it depends where you’re from and what herb is locally available to give that spicy-herby flavour.