Choosing Chillies – A Russian Roulette

I’ve been sowing chilli seeds this week and inevitably dreaming of long, sunny days and fresh food, picked straight from the garden. I have to admit that although I grow chillies every year, I am a bit of a wimp with the heat ratings of the chillies that I grow, typically sticking to mild to medium range. In the past I’ve grow things like ‘Corno doToro’, ‘Anaheim’, ‘Jalapeño’,  ‘Joe’s Long’ and ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’. This are all well known, but there are so many varieties to choose from, I’d like to become more adventurous.

Most year’s, including this one, I grow a variety called ‘de Padron’, which hails from an area of Galicia, Spain with the same name. These chilli peppers are used exclusively in a traditional tapas dish called ‘Pimientos de Padron’, where they are simply fried and served with coarse sea salt. The peppers used for the dish are picked when young and green.


Now the fun thing about the peppers is that, whilst the vast majority of them are mild and moreish, a small number are incredibly hot. Eating pimientos de Padron is like playing a game of Russian roulette, so it is important to have a drink of milk, lassi or some other heat sapping fluid to hand. Beer might be the norm, but won’t help as much.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been edging into hotter chilli territory, ie growing those with higher scoville ratings. This actually start with the RHS ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign, when they sent out free packets of vegetable seed to signed up participants, including a chilli called ‘Chenzo’. Chenzo is rated as meduim hot (45,000 SHU – Scoville heat units). The plants were sturdy, with attractive dark foliage and lovely black, shiny, regular fruits, which eventually turned a bright red.


Chilli ‘Chenzo’

This (above) was my prize-winning FB photographic entry! The chillies were indeed hot, but they were loved by the rest of the family and the plants was so ornamental that I was converted to looking for the prettiest varieties to grow.

Last year I tried Chilli ‘Numex Twilight’, which produced a fantastic crop of beautiful rainbow fruits.


Last year’s Chilli ‘Numex Twilight’ crop

I risked planting them out in the vegetable plot fairly early and they grew brilliantly. When the weather got cooler I potted three of them up and brought them indoors, to the kitchen window sill, to enjoy their changing multi-coloured show.


One of the ‘Numex Twilight’ chillies on the window sill

Later, after picking the chillies for drying, I decided to see if I could keep the plants over the winter rather than throwing them on the compost. One of the blogs that I follow, ‘Mark’s Veg Plot‘, recommended chopping them back for this, so that is what I did. Since the beginning of February they have put on considerable growth and I can see the beginnings of flowers too.


Over-wintered chillies

So what have I chosen to sow this year? Well, in addition to ‘de Padron’ and some more Numex Twilight, I’ve gone for a bit of drama with:

Vampire‘ – medium heat – black leaves, purple flowers, black immature chillies ripening to blood red.

Aji Lemon‘- slightly hotter – crops well with easily dried yellow fruits which have a citrus overtone to their taste.

Chiltepin‘ – HOT – Wild parent of all chilli peppers and part of a conservation project – violent heat which diminishes rapidly. Small, pea-sized fruit.

Now I just have to be patient!

Although most seed companies sell a selection of chillies, here are some specialist suppliers, who are enthusiastic about them and have larger ranges:

Do you grow chillies? How do you choose them? Do you like them hot? What would you recommend?????

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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8 Responses to Choosing Chillies – A Russian Roulette

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Total wimp here – when I eat any capsicum, I suffer frequent hot flashes! 😦 I used to enjoy a good salsa and various Thai and Mexican dishes. Maybe that affliction will ease in time and I can go back to a spicy dish or two, I hope. In the meantime, I like ornamental peppers in the garden for the pretty fruit and foliage.

  2. I love pardon peppers but that’s my lot really. I do love the look of them

  3. croftgarden says:

    This year I’ve finally admitted that we’re too far north to grow good peppers (chillis or sweet). I’m also very sensitive to chilli so even a mild one can produce a reaction, so it is definitelt time to stop playing Russian roulette. Fortunately spicy food can still be delicious without the chilli burn.

    • That’s a shame ‘cos they are beautiful plants whether or not you eat them at the end. Their growing season is very long though, so I can see how you might struggle further north. For the same effect, the winter cherry (Solanum capsicastrum) looks similar and is easier/faster, but that’s definitely not edible!

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