In the last couple of years, for a person who really enjoys making veg curries and spicy food, I didn’t grow a lot of chillies. I had a go at Indian curry chilli, very hot Demon Red and some Jalapenos and was satisfied with this selection. Jalapenos were tasty when pickled; I used curry chillies in Indian dishes and Red Demon was great for really spicing things up.
And then last July I visited RHS Hampton flower show and realised how limited my choice was. At Grow Your Own pavilion I saw some incredible looking chillies like Elephant’s trunk, Black Scorpion Tongue and Rocoto aka tree chilli. My mind was blown away and a serious research into the chilli world began!
The original plan was to sow chillies in mid February as I normally do but it was completely derailed by a gang of chilli growers on Twitter and Instagram. Once photos of freshly germinated chilli seedlings started to appear, my will was broken and I sowed all my varieties on 21st of January.
I don’t regret this decision as through some friendly banter about a sowing itch on Twitter, we created the hashtags #firstchillichallenge and #chilliwars for a fun chilli growing competition.
Chilli varieties I am growing this year:
1. Pimiento de Padron, Heat: Mild 500-2500 SHU, Origin: Spain
This is a chilli which has its own festival! A village of Padron in the northwest of Spain holds the annual Fiesta del Pimiento de Herbon which brings all Padron fans together and celebrates a unique nutty taste of this chilli.
Generally very mild, they are also known as Russian roulette peppers as there are few in the bunch which deliver a spicy kick, similar to Jalapeno on the Scoville heat units scale. I think, remembering my Russian roots, I will have lots of fun eating this chilli!
Padron are best harvested when still green and about 5cm long. They are delicious simply pan-fried with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt flakes, being the most popular chilli tapas in Spain. Check a quick recipe on the South Devon Chilli farm website.
2. Santa Fe Grande, Heat: Mild 2500-5000 SHU, Origin: USA
Santa Fe Grande originates from the southwest region of the United States and is also known as “Caribe” or “Guero” in Mexico which means blonde. I have to admit I got this chilli just for its pale yellow colour and, well, maybe for its slightly smoky, lemony flavour which was advertised on the seed packet.
This is an old, reliable variety with 6cm long conical peppers. I am looking forward to tasting them raw in salads and making a smoky omelette, salsa and sauces from them.
3. Jalapenos, Heat: Mild, 3000 – 8000 SHU, Origin: Mexico
Jalapeno seeds came to me by chance from our neighbour’s skip. My partner saw a plant pot in the skip and decided that it will be useful in the garden. Little did we know that the dying chilli plant was accompanied by a ripe red Jalapeno. I saved the seeds and was growing healthy Jalapenos in no time.
My neighbour was very curious about where I managed to find such nice plants so I told her! 🙂 I shared some with her as it was only fair.
I prefer Red Jalapeno pepper to green as green fruits are just not hot enough for me. Last year we pickled all the harvest in a white wine vinegar with bay leaves and the jar disappeared quickly during the winter months.
4.Hungarian Hot Wax, Heat: Hot, 5000-10000 SHU, Origin: Hungary
I had an idea to find a chilli variety a bit spicier than Jalapeno but not overpowering. Hungarian Hot Wax seemed to fit the bill: easy to grow in most climates and could be 4 times hotter than Jalapeno. In Hungary these chillies are simply known as hot yellow pepper and I have a weakness for yellow-coloured peppers with Aji Lemon and Santa Fe Grande being among my favourites!
Hungarian Hot Wax is probably the biggest chilli I am growing this summer, with attractive, long waxy fruits measuring between 10-15cm in length. I think they will be very good for stuffing. In Russia, my grandmother used to prepare lots of yummy dishes with peppers stuffed with rice, mushrooms, cheese, beans, tuna and chicken. Without sounding too sentimental, I must say I miss her cooking and so here is the recipe on The Spruce for chiles rellenos (literally stuffed chillies).
5.Aji Lemon, Heat: Hot, 15000-30000 SHU, Origin: Peru
Golden yellow colour, tangy citrus flavour, medium/hot heat punch, can be grown as perennial (if brought to overwinter indoors) – it is the chill I wanted to try the most!
Due to their unique flavour and ornamental beauty Aji Lemon chillies have recently become popular outside of their native Peru, but still I struggled to find the seeds. I came across many online shops selling Lemon Drop chilli. I scratched my head, are they the same? Mr Fothergills confirmed that even though Aji Lemon and Lemon Drop belong to the same group C.Baccatum, they are not the same variety. Did you know that Aji chillies are not in Capsicum annuum group, like for example, bell, wax, cayenne chillies and jalapenos? Eventually I located Aji Lemon seeds on the South Devon Chill farm website.
Aji Lemon has a definite citrus fruitiness, sometimes very much like lemon. Can I use it in my tea? 🙂 Maybe not, but I will be adding it to salsas (together with Santa Fe Grande) and raw in my fajitas and sandwiches.
6.Hot Cayennetta, Heat: Hot, 20000 SHU, Origin:UK
Hot Cayenneta seeds were a freebie (thanks!) packet from Mr Fothergills. Highly attractive chilli plant which produces a large crop of fruits with a bit of a hot kick, of course, I couldn’t say no!
7. Curry Chilli, Heat: Hot, Origin: India
In our household we call this ‘Indian curry chilli’. I first discovered it in Moscow about 15 years ago! It was such a novelty back in the recent post-communism times. I used to track down once in a few months delivery of fresh chillies from India, buy one or two kilos and eat them raw with a soy sauce; and then wait patiently for the next delivery! It was a bit crazy chilli-mania, but I needed my endorphins!
As the first chilli I ever tried, Indian chilli will always tastes special to me. Nowadays, I buy curry chilli in Asda, so easily available, save the seeds and grow plants. They still are delicious chopped in a bowl of soy sauce, like the first time!
8. Komodo Dragon, Heat: Super Hot, claimed at around 1.4 million Scoville heat units, Origin: probably UK
Well, this is a weird one, even for me! Not much information can be found about Komodo Dragon online, except that “this chilli is being grown in Blunham, Bedfordshire by Salvatore Genovese, who has spent 15 years trying to get the Komodo Dragon to thrive in the British climate”.
I spotted this eye-wateringly hot chilli in Tesco and when I read a warning on the pack: “Do not touch without wearing gloves”, my heart was set on growing it. Careful tasting revealed that the heat is more on the habanero level, not nearly as hot as Californian Reaper but I will give it a go anyway.
My wish list for the next year includes: Ohnivec, huge, very hot Czech variety, Indian Elephant’s trunk and Rocoto aka Tree Chile aka Hairy Bolivians and I am excited about many hot chilli discoveries to come! Check Hairy Bolivians on Twitter under the hashtag #firstchillichallenge and I bet the posts will make you laugh!
Many people wonder if they can grow chillies without having a greenhouse. I say yes, yes, yes! Starting my seeds on the windowsill always works. You don’t even need a heated propagator, place your pots near the radiator and you are good to go! No excuses!
I have also picked up a few tips reading an article on How to grow chilies by Alys Fowler and share them with you:
- Start sowing your chilli seeds in January for longer growing season and better harvest
- Ideal temperature for germination is 28C
- Repot your chilli plants regularly (as soon as you see white roots appearing from the drainage holes)
- Keep your chillies warm and sheltered from wind – I use mini greenhouse for small plants to harden off and then place them at south facing wall, near a fence.
For more chilli inspiration, read a chilli-tastic blog post by the Propagator, discover chilli grower’s communities and helpful resources on Sharpen Your Spades and follow Rekha’s chilli adventures on Instagram. Share your chilli stories in the comments below and join #firstchillichallenge and #chilliwars on Twitter!