Peppers – Gardening Tips from The Culinary View

Did You Know?

Peppers (Capsicum) are native to the tropical Americas where they are a perennial plant.  Outside of the frost-free regions, peppers are grown as a warm season annual.  Usually considered a vegetable, peppers are botanically a fruit – specifically a berry.  In other countries, peppers will often be called capsicum or chili while the word pepper is reserved for the spice – black pepper – Piper nigrum.  

Types of Peppers

There are hundreds of varieties of peppers from big blocky bell peppers to the tiny chiltepin – the official Texas State Native Pepper.  Different varieties also have a wide range of heat measured in Scoville Units based on their concentration of capsainoids. On this heat scale, bell peppers are a 0, Jalapeno (The Texas State Pepper) ranges from 2000 to 10,000 and the Carolina Reaper comes in at 2 million – I don’t eat those.  Most of the heat in a pepper is concentrated in the seeds and the inner membranes which can be removed to moderate the flavor.  Immature peppers are mostly green but a few varieties are purple.  Mature peppers range through shades of red, orange, or yellow depending on variety.  Because of their profusion of colorful fruit, many varieties of peppers make an attractive ornamental,

When to Plant

Pepper seeds are started indoors in late winter and the plants set out in the garden after the last freeze date.  Plants will produce abundantly through the spring and then slow down during the hottest days of summer.  Production will pick back up as temperatures moderate in the fall and continue until a freeze kills the plant.  Plants can also be set out in late summer for a fall harvest.

Harvest and Storage

Peppers can be harvested at any stage.  Immature peppers will have a more vegetable, somewhat grassy flavor while mature peppers will have the highest sugar content and a more complex, fruity flavor. Pepper plants are rather brittle, and it can help to harvest with pruners to avoid breaking branches.  It is advisable to wear gloves when handling hot peppers to avoid irritation.  Never touch your eyes when handling hot peppers – that would be just like pepper spray!  Fresh peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  For cooking purposes, cut up peppers can be flash frozen on a cookie sheet then bagged and kept in the freezer.   Peppers can also be pickled, canned, dried, and ground into a spice. Peppers are closely related to tomatoes and sweet mature peppers make a wonderful pasta sauce.  If you have eaten a pepper that is a bit too hot for you, cool the burn with milk or an acid drink like lemonade or a sip of wine to help neutralize the alkaline capsainoids.  

By:  Michael Vidrine

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