Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 Pepper Reviews

I've had bad luck with peppers for the last few years, but not this year! I feel I have enough data this year to do a post entirely about peppers.

Source: Seed Trade
Transplanted: March 27
First Harvest: July 29

Growth: These were my last peppers to harvest. The plants are pretty tall, coming up past my waist, with small leaves. The yield didn't seem that great, though I only got 3 plants, so I didn't get that many peppers in total.

Appearance: Looks a lot like the "cherry" peppers I get in my CSA, but these have the thin walls of a drying pepper. Bright red. They turned out a bit smaller than the cascabels I've bought from the store.

Flavor: These are mildly hot peppers used for drying and grinding into chili powder. Their name means "rattle" in Spanish, because the pods don't wrinkle up when dry like some peppers, allowing the seeds to rattle around in the hollow interior. I'm quite familiar with these, since they're a main pepper in Mexican cuisine and are easily obtainable at the store, but this is the first time I've grown them myself.

Grow Again?: Yes, I went ahead and saved seeds for them, though they didn't seem to do as well as the Negro peppers, which have the same basic culinary use. I'm going to give them another chance, though I might discontinue them in the future if it turns out other drying peppers do much better.

Emerald Giant
Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Transplant Date: March 16
First Harvest: June 18

Growth: Shorter plants with much bigger leaves than most of the hot peppers. Not as heat tolerant as the hot peppers, but still very good yields. I got a nice big batch of peppers off of them.

Appearance: Nice big bell peppers, somewhat elongated. I often have trouble growing large bell peppers like they have in the store. These weren't quite as big as the ones in the store, but were close, and much bigger than the ones I get from my CSA.

Flavor: The flesh was nice and thick, unlike some sweet peppers I've grown. I usually let my sweet peppers completely ripen before eating them, because they're sweeter that way. These were nice and sweet and crispy. Good for any bell pepper application.

Grow Again?: Yes, I plan on growing these again, though I'm going to keep trying some other bell pepper varieties just in case there are some out there that are even better. But these seem quite promising.

Lemon Drop
Source: Seed Trade
Transplant Date: March 16
First Harvest: June 3

Growth: Short, stocky plants, with broad leaves. Very healthy plants and big yields. These are a different species than most peppers. Most peppers are Capsicum annum, while Lemon Drops are Capsicum baccatum, a species more common in South America than up here. I've never grown this species before, so I wonder if the differently-shaped leaves is typical of the species. Also, the pods stick up when they are first growing on the plant, and then hang down as they get bigger. Most C. annum I've grown stick down from the beginning.

Appearance: These are some of the prettiest peppers I've seen. They're lemon yellow and sort of wrinkled, even when fresh. Always perfectly shaped, though they started getting smaller as the weather got hotter, but all peppers seem to do that.

Flavor: I'd call these medium-hot, or maybe medium-high hot. Hotter than a jalapeno, maybe close to a serrano, not as hot as a habanero. I chomped one by itself just to see, and it burned pretty hot but died out quickly. They do have a bright, citrus-like flavor. Not the sort of pepper you'd put in red chili, for that you want earthy-tasting peppers, these are bright and acidic. Like I posted about before, I made hot sauce with some, and dried the rest. It would probably be good to add one or two fresh ones to a stir-fry to give it a little kick. They're a bit juicier than the other hot peppers I grew, suggesting they aren't primarily a drying pepper, and are more for using fresh. I wish I knew more about Peruvian cuisine so I could try it in an authentic dish from its native homeland.

Grow Again?: Yes, the plants grew great, and the peppers taste great. There was a bit of a Lemon Drop craze on the gardening forums a few years ago, but it seems to have died down as people move on to the next fad (yes, gardening has fads just like anything else). I like how they have a bit of a different hot flavors than the hot peppers I'm used to (which are mostly of Mexican or Southwestern origin). It adds variety, and maybe I should look up some Peruvian recipes to try.

Source: Native Seeds/SEARCH
Transplant Date: March 31
First Harvest: June 30

Growth: Not as tall as the Cascabels, but otherwise similar. Small leaves, heat and drought tolerant. I only got 5 plants, but they did well and produced a good amount of peppers, despite being overrun and squished a bit by some of the tomatoes next to them.

Appearance: Their name means "black" in Spanish, though they're also known as Pasilla ("raisin") or Pasilla Negro. They're an interesting purplish-brown color when fresh and ripe, conical in shape.

Flavor: This is another drying pepper to use for chili powder, moles, etc. Same culinary niche as the Cascabel peppers, with very thin walls to facilitate drying and mild heat. They seem a lot like a miniature Ancho pepper to me, and smell very similar, this nice, rich, sweet smell. Rick Bayless describes peppers like these as tasting like a "spicy raisin" and I agree. Very tasty.

Grow Again?: Yes. I think I like these better than the Cascabels, but I'm giving both a second chance just to make sure. I ended up drying all of mine, and I love taking the top off the jar they're in and inhaling the fragrance. This is gonna make some goooood chili! I'm also tempted to try making some turkey mole some day, though that's a complicated dish with a long list of ingredients that takes hours to make. But for a special occasion it might be worth it, and I have a copy of Mexico: One Plate at a Time that has an authentic recipe for it.

So those are all the peppers I grew on purpose, but like I mentioned before, I also got a couple of mystery peppers mixed in. I think I know what one of them is, but the other one has me stumped.

This is the larger mystery pepper that I have no idea what it is. They're bright red and medium-hot with thin walls, that seem like they're meant to be a drying pepper, which is what I ended up doing with them. They're not as sweet or earthy tasting as the Negro or Cascabel peppers. They seem too narrow to be an Anaheim or New Mexico chile. Any ideas? I guess I'll use them for chili powder, unless I find out what they are and if they're really supposed to be used for something else.

I'm pretty sure the other mystery pepper is a Cayenne. They're long and skinny and very hot, with very thin walls. They were practically self-drying. They dried up just sitting on the counter without needing to be put in the food dehydrator. I think I'll use them for Italian-style hot pepper flakes.

To sum it up, all the peppers did well this year. My least favorite may have been the Cascabels, mainly because there are other peppers that fill the same culinary niche that might do better for me. But I'm still going to grow them again just in case. The Lemon Drops were very interesting, and I'd like to find out more things I can do with them. The Emerald Giants did a great job as a bell pepper, and the Negros look like they'll make some excellent chili powder and maybe even some enchilada sauce or mole.

Now I have a huge supply of dried peppers! I filled up two quart mason jars with dried Lemon Drops, another couple of jars with the mystery peppers, and another of Negro chilies. I'm pretty much all set for dried peppers for a while. I'm even considering giving some away.

Not only that, but all my pepper plants are still alive, though they quit setting fruit in the heat. But this means that they'll probably survive the summer and start producing again once it cools down a bit.

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