A most briefe and pleasaunte treatise teachyng how to dresse, sowe and set a garden**
Chillies and why you should try growing them. Variety is the spice of life and these spicy plants have variety in spades. You will never run out of variations in size, color, and shape or heat level. There is at least one out there perfect for you.
Before moving on to some ‘why you shoulds’ let’s look at some ‘why you won’ts’.
A most briefe and pleasaunte treatise teachyng how to dresse, sowe and set a garden*
If there are any interested in giving it a go after reading this I have put together a variety pack of seeds. Heat from zero to world’s hottest. Colours, red, white, chocolate, yellow, peach. Shapes, pea shaped, 30 cm ‘ribbons’, ‘normal’. Large plant, small 30-60cm plants. Included in each bundle will be growing instructions. Or more accurately what I have found to work in WA. Drop a note to ‘management’ or leave a message on the blog and we will get them out to you.
Before moving on to some ‘why you shoulds’ let’s look at some ‘why you won’ts’.
A small or no garden at all? There are plants that happily grow indoors in 150-200mm pots, just provide some sunshine. But even then I grew a specimen of the then world’s hottest chillie which never received direct sunlight. Apart from leaves displaying ‘gigantism’ it was fine. The beauty of the chillie plant is that you do not have to have a big garden to grow sufficient quantities. One or two plants can supply you for months. A super hot one will keep you supplied with fresh and dried chillie spice all year.
2) A Hot & Spicy Food Wimp? Definitely not an excuse. There are varieties as mild as a capsicum. There is also no need to actually eat them. Many look great just as an ornamental. The pods can be any number of colors and shapes and look good against the green foliage, lasting for weeks or months. There are some who sport purple leaves for added colour.
3) Lack a green thumb? You are in luck. While there are some chillies that need a bit of tlc there are others that are relatively tough. Ones such as the Tepin/Chiltepin, the State Chillie of Texas. They grow in semi arid areas. I have found chillies to be relatively pest and disease free. Although where you live might have voracious insects and plant lurgies we do not have in the Wild Wild West The big secret is maintaining water supply and an occasional feed.
The chilli growing bug bit me over 20 years ago, prompted by a simple desire. Since then it has provided many joys and the occasional disappointment. But always there is next season, renewed hope, new varieties and this time doing it right’.
One of the great adventures the growing of chillies takes you on is a trip from the garden to the world’s kitchens. Across the globe there are a myriad of cuisines that call for particular chillies prepared in a particular way. Be it the incredibly useful smokey Merkin powder of the Mapuche people using Cacho de Cabre chillies or Prik Kaeng Kiao Wan (a green curry) from Thailand using Green Bird Eye chillies to Hungarian Sajtos Toltott Paprika using Hungarian Wax chillies. The heat scale of the dishes ranging from mild to wild……………………well. nuclear J . I may have been growing chillies for a long time but I still prefer not to mix pain and pleasure. The foolproof formula is – it’s twice as hot, use half as much !
The ‘heat’ from chillies comes from several related chemicals called Capsaicins. To show you the difference a few atoms make, capsaicin is a vanilloid, a ‘cuzzy bro’ of vanilla. Heat is measured on the Scoville Heat Units scale. Word of the day ‘Organoleptic’. Organoleptic testing was how the heat level of chillies was originally measured. It often still is. It sounds ‘high tech’ but it really is ‘suck it and see’. The Scoville rating measures how many times a measure of chillie can be diluted using sugar water and ‘heat’ still be detected by a panel of tasters .To give you an idea of how hot is hot and how NOT HOT a Jalapeno actually is…..
|Chilli||Scovile Heat Units (SHU)|
|Thai Birds Eye||50,000-100,000|
|Carolina Reaper (world’s hottest)||1,650,000-2,200,00|
The ‘burn’ from capsaicins has a couple of interesting aspects, it stimulates the same pain pathway as an actual burn. Unlike other hot spices such as pepper, the body becomes increasingly tolerant to the effects of capsaicins. Like drug addicts, chillieheads need larger and larger doses to get the endorphin rush.
In addition to the culinary world there is, if you wish to enter it, a large community of ‘chillieheads’ out there. People who will help you out with advice, hints, seeds or recipes. No one is going to get rich out of the hobby so none of the crap which goes along with anything that involves big bucks or hope for big bucks. A number of Australian cities have chillie festivals. Drop in to one when they, eventually, run again.
Lastly, there is the simple pleasure of growing something. Watching something go from seed to setting fruit is just a few months. The plants look good, taste good and are the fruits of your own labour. The chillies themselves can often be a great conversation starter or common point of interest with others. There is always someone in your circle who likes a bit of HOT …
… and you can provide it. They will appreciate something different to the limited variety sold in shops. Especially if it is a very hot one as they are rarely available. Although I did see a local Coled selling the world’s hottest chillie in late 2019, Carolina Reaper, $5.50 for 10 grams , OMG $550 a kg !!!. So even if they are too hot for you there will be someone that will greatly appreciate some fresh ones.
Kitchen Korner. Last season I tried making a Lactofermented Chillie sauce. The chillie version of the sour dough bread craze. Lacto sauces became ‘trendy’, chock full of buzz words like “probiotic’ so they ‘gotta be good’ eh? The ubiquitous Tabasco sauce uses the method. If you have been to Asian eating places you likely came across Sriracha chillie sauce, another lactofermented sauce. Once you know the basics it is very easy and non labour intensive.
Apart from the sauces mentioned you will already be familiar with foods produced using this method, kimchi and sauerkraut. The process involves putting fruit/spices/vegetables in a brine strong enough to kill off the ‘bad’ bacteria but not the lactobacillus that naturally live on the fruit and vege.The same bugs that spoil milk. As they digest the sugars they produce lactic acid which lowers the pH and so preserves the vegetable. Apart from general cleanliness THE one thing to remember is to end up with about 2.5% salt.
Although there are jars designed specifically for this, an Agee jar or similar is quite OK to use. Whatever jar you choose make up enough of the ingredients to fill with 5 or so cm from the top. During fermentation the jar needs to be sealed from the air. If you have a container with an air lock, fantastic. If not then 1/2 to 3/4 fill a resealable plastic bag with water. Place it on top of the brine and sauce ingredients so as to exclude contact with air and keep the ingredients below the surface.
A basic recipe. Adjust quantities to suit your jar.
1) Rock/Sea Salt. NOT iodised salt
2) Boiled and cooled water. Roughly enough to fill your glass container
3) 350g Green Jalapeno. Type of chillie and quantity to suit your taste
4) 225g chopped celery, stalk and leaves
5) 1 chopped green bell pepper or one that matches colour of chillies
6) 2 cloves garlic minced. (optional)
7) 1 medium onion sliced
8) 1 tsp coriander seeds
Weigh ingredients 3 to 8. Then weigh out 2.5% of their weight in rock salt/sea salt. Put salt to one side. (easy peasy calc., just divide weight by 40)
Place vegetables and spices into jar. Pack down a little. Pour in water until water is a cm or two above the sauce ingredients.
Pour the water back out of the jar and measure its weight. Divide weight by 40 and add that quantity of rock/sea salt to the water. Also add the salt you weighed out for sauce ingredients 3 to 8. Dissolve the salt and then pour back into the jar of ingredients. Seal the jar with the zip lock bag of water. Ensure all the ingredients are a cm or two below the surface of the brine.
Fermentation should begin in 1-4 days. During fermentation a white ‘powder’ may form on the surface. This is Kahm yeast. Not dangerous but supposedly gives a bitter taste. Just carefully skim it off the top. Easy to do as it is extremely hydrophobic.
Leave to ferment for 2-4 weeks. You can process it then or wait a little longer to let the flavours develop. I left a mash of pure Carolina Reaper for 6 months. The original Tabasco was left 2-3 years.
Processing. After fermentation strain out sauce ingredients and retain the liquid. Place the veggie/spice mix in a blender. Turn on the blender and slowly add the retained fluid until the sauce is of the consistency you want. A good option is to add ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar before adding the liquid. Adding ½ tablespoon citric acid will also help preserve it or the juice of a lemon instead
Once the sauce has been ‘blitzed’ you can either work it through a sieve to remove pulp or use as is. The extra work of getting it through the sive means your sauce should not separate on sitting. I never bother. Just keep it in the fridge and shake before use.
At the start of this I mentioned my chillie adventure started 20+ years ago from a simple desire. What was that desire? Revenge! While watching cricket and enjoying a few cleansing ales with a Scottish mate – he kept munching on some homemade pickled chillies he’d made. Eventually he offered me one, assuring me they were nae hot. Following his example and taking his word I tore into one. 10 seconds later “I’m melting’. I did not realise back then that you become tolerant to effects of capsaicin ‘with practice’, he had lots of ‘practice’. A month later I read an article about a new world record chillie in the US and a plan was born. Not legally exportable at the time and e-commerce in the early days I set about getting seeds and growing some. 18 months after ‘the incident’ a very very cold dish of ‘revenge’ was served. Ah the sweet sight of a gruff Glaswegian from The Gorbals trying to make out he was not in agony despite the gasping, red face, tears and sweat dripping off him. He did very well though considering how much of the pod he ate. So here’s to you Alex me old mate, now in the great Highlands in the Sky. Thank you for the road you sent me down,
*Nebru 7 Pod .Kaffeeklatscher is the very proud ‘parent’ of this variety. An accidental cross I grew that turned out to be ‘most excellent’ and now sold in places as far away as Texas and Croatia. It has earned for me exactly $0.00 but inner ‘chuffedness ‘= Priceless.
**Thomas Hill . Published 1588.
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If there are any interested in giving it a go after reading this I have put together a variety pack of seeds. Heat from zero to world’s hottest. Colours, red, white, chocolate, yellow, peach. Shapes, pea shaped, 30 cm ‘ribbons’, ‘normal’. Large plant, small 30-60cm plants. Included in each bundle will be growing instructions. Or more accurately what I have found to work in WA. Send an email to poroti2ATbigpond.com if you would like one and I will post one to your avatar.