I’ve decided to grow some chillies.
Strangely though, I can’t write about growing chillies without also writing about my alcoholism. One of the common factors I’ve noticed in meeting other alcoholics over the years, is that we don’t tend to do things by halves. This is of course a generalisation, but it holds true an awful lot of the time. It’s all or nothing. Parked up or full throttle. If an alcoholic’s asked to put up a shelf, they hear it as an invitation to redecorate the entire room and put in an extension. If they join a gym, then as the treadmill’s just starting up they’re googling Iron Man competitions. If they’re going to learn to juggle, then before he or she has bought a first set of three balls, they’re already planning their televised tightrope crossing of Niagara Falls whilst juggling eight clubs, a chainsaw, and a tiger. You get the idea.
It’s with this in mind, that when I told a fellow alcoholic that I’d decided grow chillies to make hot sauce with, his first response was “When’s the factory opening?” They weren’t wrong to be honest; I was already pondering what the logo should look like…
But hey, although I don’t drink any more I’ll always be an alcoholic, and there are worse things I could turn my madness towards than growing chillies and making my own variations on Bajan sauce.
Apparently it’s a bit later in the year than ideal to be sowing the hotter varieties, so I’ve bought a small heated propagator to push the germination along. I bought a couple of packs of common Thompson & Morgan varieties from the friendly folks at Sturmer Nurseries, and ordered some more exotic variants from the excellent South Devon Chilli Farm. Links to the seeds are beside the names in case anyone likes the sound of them.
All in all, I’ll be growing:
Pimientos de Padron (SDCF)
Image: Sheri Wetherell – CC BY 2.0
These barely count as a hot chilli at all. They are, however, a delight when served as tapas – simply flashed in a hot pan and then tossed in salt. What’s more, my folks don’t have much of a palate for hot spice, so this at least means that I’ll be growing something that they might be able to enjoy.
Jalapeno ‘Rocky’ (Either not available online, or T&M have renamed it ‘Summer Heat’)
Image: Ulrich Peters – CC BY 2.0
In my daydreams about making Bajan-style sauces, I’ve got a range of heat intensities in mind. There’s really no better pepper for something at the mild end of the spectrum than the ever popular Jalapeno.
Bulgarian Carrot (SDCF)
Image: Andy Roberts – CC BY 2.0
Now we’re starting to crank up the Scovilles a bit. I’m hoping that these will do nicely for a mild/medium sauce. They also have a fair amount of juicy flesh on them, so should give the flavour a bit of zing. Anyway, even if they taste rubbish – they’re still a chilli that looks like a carrot; what’s not to like?
Image: Julio Cesar Costa Filho – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
McIlhenny have done alright turning this famous Mexican pepper into a sauce, so I may as well give it a go.
Ring of Fire Cayenne (SDCF)
Image: Meredith Kahn – CC BY-NC 2.0
This variety reportedly produces a prolific amount of fruit, so I felt a good choice in case it turns out that I’m really crap at growing chilli plants. Hedging my bets or something. About 10 times hotter than a Jalapeno (your mileage may vary) this is planned for a version of the sauce towards the hot end of medium. It’s at this point that the idea of tasting things as you cook them is going to become a bit troublesome. I don’t actually have a massive tolerance to chilli pepper heat, with most jalfrezis resulting in constant nose blowing, brow mopping, and dining partners making enquiries to see if anyone knows CPR. So why am I planning to make a sauce out of these? I dunno; sounds fun.
Peruvian White Habanero (SDCF)
Image: Stefano – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
And on to the habaneros. Habaneros are the traditional chillies used in Bajan sauces, so it’s only right that I grow some. It’d be culturally disrespectful not to. Or something. The Peruvian white is, at least, one of the least hot versions of the variety. So I’ll only scream in agony for a little bit.
Antillais Caribbean Habanero (SDCF)
Image: toyohara – CC BY-NC 2.0
And now we’re just getting silly. About seventy or eighty times hotter than a jalapeno. Around 400,000 Scovilles. I’m scared at the idea of being in the same room as these chilli peppers. Ridiculous. The greenhouse is going to catch fire and I’m going down for arson.
Bhut Jolokia (SDCF)
Image: Richard Elzey – CC BY 2.0
For the sake of completeness I may as well round my crop off with 20 plants of the former world’s hottest chilli at over a million Scovilles, the Ghost Chilli. Which may be a prescient name if one of these goes anywhere near my tongue. This is just stupid. What the hell am I doing.
So yeah, I thought it would be fun to grow some chilli peppers.
I now have seeds for eight different types either sown for germination, or soaking in weak tea overnight – which softens the husks by just the right amount, effectively mimicking a bird’s digestive tract according to the Clifton Chilli Club.
There’s an average of about twenty seeds per pack. If all of them germinate (they won’t) and flourish (they won’t) then that’s 160 plants. These aren’t windowsill chillies either – some of them grow to more than a metre tall. I have access to one small greenhouse, half of which is taken up by gardening equipment.
There may be some logistical challenges ahead.