There’s been some surprising greenhouse forward planning around here. The chilli and pepper year is not yet quite done – some of those that were started in the greenhouse in early spring are still ripening – but despite this and in an almost unprecedented display of organisation I have started to think about next year’s chillies and peppers. The occasion that prompted this was the RHS Autumn Show in London, and Seaspring Seeds’ display in particular (do have a look at their website at www.seaspringseeds.co.uk to be similarly spurred into action). Of course this is the time of year when chillies are really looking their best and so owner Joy Michaud had plenty on display. I bought a little mixed bag of them (labelled – terrifyingly – ‘Russian roulette’) to take home and gaze at. I have no idea what else I am going to do with them as I am a bit of a heatophobe and bail out at around 500 on the Scoville Scale, or roughly ‘pimiento’ level. I’m a wuss and I don’t want to risk hitting upon one of her hotties, but they looked so beautiful that I bought them anyway. I shall hide them away when there are men and beer around, just in case they suddenly prove strangely irresistible.
I took the opportunity to quiz Joy about the peppers and chilli seeds on offer, and the sort of things that would suit me and my particular foibles best. I’ve been wanting a ‘stuffing’ pepper, something mild yet really flavoursome, and perhaps suited to Mexican dishes. Joy recommended ‘Mulato Isleno’, the quintessential Mexican chilli characterised by large, heart-shaped fruits, which turn a beautiful deep brown when ripe. It is mild but with a rich, complex and ‘meaty’ taste once cooked, and is grilled and the skin removed before being added to dishes. Alternatively, it can be stuffed with cheese, battered and deep fried to make chillis rellenos, which very much sounds like my kind of a dish. It is one of the peppers (along with Ancho, Poblano and Pasilla Bajio) that is used to make the famous and fiendishly complex mole sauce, which I would love to have a go at some time when I have a weekend to spare. The plants are big and sturdy and need space and good support but I hope they will be happy in my polytunnel next year.
I also wanted to try a new sweet pepper and Joy recommended I try ‘Hamik’. This is a pretty, chunky little bright orange thing and what Joy calls a ‘lunchbox pepper’, claiming that it is so sweet that you can pop them into children’s lunchboxes whole just like you might a cherry tomato (my pepper-hating son snorted at this when I told him but hey, if anything will convert him, it’s ‘Hamik’). In fact Joy says that when measured for sweetness against cherry tomatoes, this pepper came out top. She gives me a chunk to try and it is indeed particularly sweet and easy going. It’s in. Though I will most probably grow this in the polytunnel too, it is much more compact than ‘Mulato Isleno’ and would be perfect for growing in a pot in a sunny greenhouse.
Obviously I won’t be sowing yet, but chillies will be the earliest of all of the sowings next year so it is good to already have mine ready to go. Come February I will get them started in the heated propagator in the greenhouse and then I will hope for a long and hot summer to bring out the best in them. With a bit of luck I shall be a couple of stone fatter this time next year from all the chilles rellenos.