Friday, 13 April 2012

How to grow Sweet Peppers and Chilli Peppers at home - Food - Cooking Tips

What is a pepper?

A pepper is just a pepperright? Wrong. All peppers are derived from the species Capsicum Annuum and there are hundreds of varieties all over the world. American, European, Italian and Chinese varieties are common to all cuisines. Capsicums are a native of Mexico and South America.

Some peppers are hot, some are sweet. Some are made for drying, others to be ground into pimentn (a type of paprika from Spain) and others are grown specially to be eaten fresh in salads. The hot varieties form the basis of curries and many other dishes in Asian cuisine.The pepper and the numerous relatives of its extended family green, red, orange, yellow, small and spicy, large and sweet are one of the characteristic ingredients of Spanish cooking. They can be dried and ground into powder to produce pimentn, a unique Spanish flavouring used in a variety of dishes including paella. They can be roasted or preserved whole by various methods: in vinegar or brine, or peeled and bottled in their own juices. And of course, they can be eaten fresh, as an ingredient in one of countless Spanish recipes or summer salads all around the world. Stuffed whole peppers are common in many cuisines.

Here in Spain, we grow our own red and green peppers and a few varieties of hot chilli peppers, both for the kitchen and as decorative container plants. We freeze most of our sweet peppers for use in stews and casseroles and use them fresh in salads. They are a very healthy food and contain large amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. If you live in a cooler climate, try growing the variety, New Ace. It is high yielding and tolerant of cooler conditions.

Cayenne peppers are very easy to grow in containers and tend to produce more flowers as you harvest the crop. We find that the hotter the weather the hotter the chilli becomes as it ripens and turns from green to red. You must be careful how you handle chillies as the capsaicin the chemical that provides the heat - can get into your skin and cause all kinds of problems for you. Dont rub your eyes after handling or preparing chillies and certainly dont touch any other sensitive part of your body (or your partners). Wear disposable plastic catering gloves to avoid this problem.What to grow and how to grow them. Sweet peppers or bell peppers as they are often called are grown in all temperate countries and are widely grown in greenhouses in Northern Europe. In Spain, and other southern European countries they grow quite successfully in open fields. These large hollow fruits are generally red when ripe, but the yellow and orange varieties are just as popular especially for u se in salads. The red and yellow varieties tend to be richer in vitamins then the green varieties.

Sow the seeds in late March or early April under glass or indoors and plant out into grow-bags or patio planters when they are about six inches high. If you have been following my mini-series of budget cookery articles, you will have learnt how to make your own stone planters. These are ideal for growing your peppers in a back yard or on the patio.

Peppers do not need a lot of feeding, especially once the fruits have formed. Harvest once the fruits turn from green to red and use sliced in salads or dice and freeze for use in casseroles. If you want to grow peppers for decorative purposes on a patio or in a conservatory, then try the yellow/orange variety of Golden Ball, or the white/purple variety Albino. Seeds are readily available from any good garden centre or seed catalogue. One tip you can use, is to save the seeds and dry them out on kitchen paper for a few days. Store them in a plastic box and you have next seasons supply of pepper seed.

Hot, hot & hotter

Tabasco and Cayenne peppers are a good start if you have not grown chilli peppers previously. Even if you dont use the chillies for culinary purposes, they make splendid pot plants. Tabasco is a Mexican shrub and the fruits are used to make the famous Tabasco Sauce. Cayenne peppers are one of the oldest varieties. Mainly grown in Asia, cayenne is very easy to grow and produces long slender fruits, which can be very hot. Dry them and powder them and you have the well-known cayenne pepper used in Cajun, Chinese and other Asian styles of cookery.

For use in Mexican and Caribbean style cookery try growing Serrano, a truly Mexican chilli which is grown commercially all over Mexico. It is easy to grow and produces hundreds of fruits as a bush type plant. Another chilli which is grown all over Mexico and Southern USA is Jalapeno (pronounced halapeeno), named after the town of Jalapa. It is commonly pickled or canned and is often smoked.

If you like your chillies really hot then go for Habanero, which is a thousand, times hotter than the jalapeno variety. The Habenero grows all over the Yucatan peninsular and is used a lot in Caribbean cuisine. If you need recipes for using your homegrown chillies, visit the Mexican and Caribbean pages of Bill and Sheilas Cookbook

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