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Garden Update, Part 4: Mild and Sweet Peppers

Snack Sweets

On to the sweets of the pepper patch! Although there are more zesty plants in the garden and pots this year, the milder variants have a good portion of the space. A couple have just the slightest tingle, while the rest have no apparent heat at all.

Colored BellsIt’s likely that the sweet Bell pepper is the most-cultivated Capsicum variant in the world, with nearly 30 million metric tons produced commercially each year. (For those of you who have trouble with such large numbers, this is approximately 20 bells for every man, woman and child. In the world.) Bell peppers are well represented at the grocery these days, in a complete riot of colors: Green, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown, white; even lavender and variegated. Recently, hybrids that exhibit a small bit of heat have become available to backyard farmers, like the Cajun Belle.

I saw some really nice specimens for sale recently, and soon the farmer and his cash were parted. I took a pair home and found them a sunny spot on the south side of the pepper patch. They didn’t seem to notice they were free; no swoon from transplanting like many peppers suffer. They stand up straight, though these bushes will likely be shorter than other bells in the garden. The slightly zesty fruit of the Cajun Belle are usually smaller than classic bells too, though there are claims that these plants are more productive over the whole season than their taller, milder cousins. I hope to make fajitas with a mix of red and green Cajuns, to surprise my friends with their piquancy.

These aren’t the only bells I planted. At the north edge of the pepper patch I’ve got a Yellow Bell, a Red Bell, and a Purple Bell. I use plenty of yellows and reds in pepper jelly, as well as making stuffed peppers and in Asian stir-fry dishes. As far as I know, I’ve never tasted a purple bell. What intrigued me about this last type is the claim that the color is only skin-deep! All the other bells I’ve caught and cooked, their color ran all the way through the fruit. Supposedly the purple bell retains a green flesh underneath its dark, satiny skin. All three of these plants look identical at this point in the season, tall and striking. Blooms are appearing on all three, so I could see finished fruit in just a few weeks.

Cubanelle

One pepper with a bit of tingle in the taste is the Cubanelle. I had one of these in the garden last year, quite by accident; apparently the small label had been swapped with one for a cayenne. In any case, this plant was the darling of the plot. Very sturdy and productive, we fell in love with the large, light-green fruit; I bought four, on purpose this time. Plenty of sweet flavor, with just a hint of zing. Great for stuffing, as fans of classic Mexican food know. We let several fruit ripen to bright red, and those chiles were a bit hotter, still sweet and tasty. The ripe reds aren’t as sturdy as the immature greens, though, so I mostly used them in stir-fry and the like.

Santa Fe ChilesAnother first for us this year is the Santa Fe Grande pepper. Also known as a Yellow Hot Pepper, it really isn’t very hot at around 500 Scoville. (For comparison, jalapeño peppers run from 2,500 for the milder giants, to over 8,000 for some editions.) This one’s also known as a Guero Chile. Whatever the name, this pepper has a reputation as a great snack or in pickles. Usually the fruit are picked when bright yellow, although they can be allowed to ripen to orange or even red. Ripe Santa Fe peppers are hotter, and don’t keep as well in the fridge. I have two in the experimental pots, so we’ll get to see how they do on the porch.

I planted two Sweet Banana plants to complement the two Hot Bananas. These sweets aren’t quite as tall as their spicier cousins, at least not yet. last year, our one sweet banana went to nearly four feet tall, and was an amazingly productive plant. Two of these should yield enough for giardiniera, snacks, salads, and to keep the rent paid on the T-post hammer. (Mike loves banana peppers; I’m not in any danger of repossession of this critical tool.)

Nowadays, when you cruise the produce aisles of your local grocery, you might well see clear plastic bags of snacking peppers. These peppers are usually about three to four inches long and tapered, in a variety of appealing colors. The orange ones could well be Tangerine Dream peppers. I started some of these from seed this year, and so far a couple of the plants have survived. (I seem to have gotten started a bit too early on these.) It’ll be another month before these bloom, I would guess, but after that I look forward to some tasty, orange snacking peppers of my own.

Many Bells

I have three Gypsy peppers, another new variety to me. Two are in one of the big pots, and the third is on the south end of the pepper plot. A container-friendly bell pepper variant, the Gypsy produces medium-sized fruit, with more taper than a typical bell. They’re ready to eat when bright yellow, and will ripen further through orange to red. Great for stuffing as well as all the other uses for bells, I think I’ll try this recipe when I have some Gypsy peppers ready.

So altogether, zesty and mild and sweet, in garden and planters, I have nearly 60 pepper plants this year. I think I’ll have almost enough to Feed the Need…

Enjoy the (Sweet to Eat) Heat!

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