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Chillies are the most rewarding plants to grow. They are as hot on the eye as on the tongue, with glossy, multi-coloured fruit that glows against the dark green leaves.
Interestingly, chilli peppers are not actually peppers. They belong to the capsicum branch of the plant family, which includes the potato, the aubergine, and the tomato. Their cultivation stretches back as far as 9 000 years to Mexico where the first wild varieties were used. The Spaniards and Portuguese introduced the chilli to the rest of the world in the mid-15th century.
These days, chillies are no longer confined to curries. They add zing to fusion cuisine, are folded into jellies, and spooned over ice cream, whipped into chocolate sauces, added to pizzas, and stirred into soups. The best way to enjoy chillies and experiment with their different strengths is to grow your own.
Some chilli tips:
- Not all chillies are suicidally hot and beginners should start with milder varieties, like Anaheim or Fresno, that produce a tangy, glowing sensation in the mouth.
- The general rule is that the smaller, narrower, and darker the chilli, the greater its pungency. But that’s not always so because growing conditions can affect hotness. Even chillies from the same bush can vary in intensity. The tip of the chilli is its mildest point so if you want to test a chilli for hotness, cut the tip and taste it cautiously.
- Reduce the burn by removing the seeds and membrane and just use the chopped flesh. Alternatively add a whole chilli during cooking and remove it when ready to serve.
- Never touch your eyes or mouth if you have handled hot chillies. Wear gloves and if possible have a separate chopping board for chillies because the juices stay in the board and can affect other foods.
Some growing tips:
- Chillies are easy to grow. All they need is a sunny, sheltered spot, rich well-drained soil, and lots of water. Watering is critical because if chillies wilt, they tend to drop their flowers and that means no fruit.
- Feed monthly with any pot plant food, and harvest the chillies when they turn red or yellow.
- If planted in pots, use the normal commercially available potting soil. Pots should not be smaller than 20cm in diameter and bigger is better.
- Water daily, especially those in pots, and when it is very hot, this can be increased to twice a day.
- Chillies do not grow well indoors because they need to be pollinated by bees and other insects. It’s better to bring a pot indoors for a special occasion and then take it out afterwards.
- Compact varieties like Fiesta, Aquille or Habanero make cheerful container plants or decorative borders. Larger varieties like Jalapeno, Fresno, and Serenade add colour to herb and veggie gardens.
Although chillies are a summer crop there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the firepower of chillies all year round:
- Use longer, less fleshy varieties like cayenne, serenade, fiesta, etc. String the peppers by running a needle and thread through the thickest part of the stem. Hang them outdoors or in a sunny window to dry.
- Drying takes about three weeks and the fruit should be brittle. Store the dried chillies whole in a container in a cool dark place. Crush them as you need them, using a rolling pin or whiz them in a blender for a finer powder.
Want to get started with my chilli picks! Order a Chilli Garden Box today!