Tasting Notes: Chile Peppers

October 13th, 2007

As much as I like tomatoes, I think chile peppers are my true calling. Trying to grow them in northern Virginia was an exercise in frustration. There was never enough sun for them there on our wooded lot, and my impression is that they don’t really like clay soil. I planted hot varieties, but was always disappointed in the heat level of the fruit. Ah, but this year, in central Virginia, where the garden is sunny and sandy, I got to fulfill my chile desires. And I only put in 17 plants! What was I thinking?

Now, none of these are the very, very, very hot kinds. I like chile heat, but I want to taste the rest of the ingredients in a dish as well. And oftentimes, there are other interesting flavors lurking in the background of these peppers – the ones that intrigue me have a sort of sweet-fruity taste in addition to the heat.

So, in descending ascending (see? another example of declining brain cell count) order of heat (which is purely my own perception – no Scoville units here) here’s the list. By the way, I planted 2 plants of most varieties, and 4 of the Serranos.

Jackpot – These were free seeds, so I planted them. This is a bell pepper and there’s no heat to these, but I’m including them (and the next one) on the list anyway. ‘Jackpot’ is a long, thin-walled bell pepper. I don’t love bell peppers and so never planted any before, but after many years of marriage I learned just this summer that my spouse likes them. I swear he never mentioned it before. Anyhow, these peppers are fine, if you like bell peppers, but there are thicker, blockier ones available.

Papri Sweet – This is a long pepper of the type I call “New Mexico” peppers. It has no heat, but is fairly thick walled for its shape. I don’t have any strong feelings about this one either way – it’s pretty good for what it is.

Aci Sivri – A long cayenne-shaped pepper, which is yellow-green before ripening. This has a bit of that fruity flavor that I admire. The heat was variable on these – some were pretty hot and some had little to no heat.

Czechoslovakian Black – A jalapeno-type pepper, purple-black before ripening, and deep Chinese-lacquer red when ripe. The second-prettiest pepper plants I grew this year – the flowers are purple, the dark fruits are attractive before they ripen and after they ripen they’re even better. Unfortunately, I have no photos of a ripe one. The heat is moderate, but there’s also a fruity-sweet flavor which intensifies when the peppers are ripe. This is one of my favorites.

Chile Grande – Another New Mexico type. Early in the season I thought these had no heat at all, but they surprised me later on – turning out to be one of the hotter ones I grew. I used them seeded and cut into long strips where I wanted a pepper flavor in a dish.

Serrano Tampiqueño – The Serranos I knew before this year all looked like a smaller slimmed-down version of a Jalapeno, but this one has a somewhat different shape – more blunt. It has the same great Serrano flavor, which I think is superior to Jalapeno. They really don’t develop any heat until the fruits are green-mature. This can be tough to discern while the fruits are on the plant, but what I’ve noticed is that the color turns a deeper green when they’re ready. They’re also very nice when red-ripe, with a bit of that fruity flavor.

Pinocchio’s Nose – Long, long, long thin peppers of the cayenne type. I measured one at 11 inches long. This was best suited for adding heat to a dish, but I didn’t detect much other flavor in it. Worth growing just to see the long fruits.

Bellingrath Gardens Purple – I guess this is considered an ornamental pepper, but we eat the fruit. And it is ornamental – dark purple-black leaves with small purple flowers and tiny black fruit ripening to orange-red. I went back to this one again and again when I needed extra heat in a dish. But I think it would make a fabulous Halloween decoration, and I’m writing this down here in hopes of remembering it next year. Imagine planting these in a black container with a ghostly Artemisia or dusty miller, and maybe a salmon-colored Osteospermum, and arranging a pumpkin or two around the container. Must remember this next year, must remember this next year, must…

I’d grow all of these again. There isn’t a bad one in the lot. All the plants were nibbled on to some degree by wild critters (deer? rabbits?), but I still had plenty of fruit. I didn’t notice if the critters ate the fruit or not, but they definitely pruned the plants for me.

Next year, I’m going to add Poblanos and more New Mexico style chiles. Maybe, possibly, a habanero. We’ll see.

I plan to update this post with pictures later, when I take my Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day photos, but I want to post this now before we head out the door to the Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival. And I’m working on a post for my food blog on all the chile condiments in my kitchen, inspired by Ki.

Updated October 14 with photos. Click through for variety names.

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