If my surname were Piper instead of Amyoony, I would have been quite at home today! I came back from the greenhouse with a “peck of Peppers” and am always amazed at how well they do in the protected environment of the greenhouse. I really appreciate the diversity of the different varieties that I have collected and am really aware of the artistic talents of dear old Mother Nature!
Today’s harvest included “Pirotski,” a long thick red pepper with green stripes brought from Serbia in the 1950’s by a family in the Okanagan when they immigrated to Canada. It is one that I call a “roulette pepper” as I have tried one off a plant and found it quite mild and sweet, and then the next pepper from the same plant almost blows the top off of your head! The flavour is so different from the “tasteless but pretty hybrids” that we have become accustomed to.
In the next pail are long thin ones from Italy brought over to North America by the Nardello family in 1887. They are a really sweet pepper and one of the best tasting ones if you like roasted or fried peppers. I use a lot of them in salads as they are quite early and have a pleasant taste even when at the green stage. The son, Jimmy Nardello, grew the seeds until his death in 1983. He had given some of the seeds to the Seed Savers Exchange a few years before.
The next pail is full to overflowing with Hungarian Black peppers. They look like large black jalapenos and are just about as hot. They are one of the best producers with up to thirty on each plant. Their shiny black skin is truly beautiful to see especially next to the purple veined leaves and the soft purple flowers on the plant.
The Yellow Hungarian banana pepper is another older variety that is still quite popular and can be seen in jars of pickled peppers (another one of Pete Piper’s favourite things!). I grow the hot one, but for those with a taste for the milder, you can get the sweet variety that looks almost the same.
One of the newer ones in my collection is called Boldog that I got a few years ago from Stellar Seeds, a small seed company in Kaslo, B.C. It is one of the earliest peppers and produces really large long thick sweet peppers that have a superior taste either green or red. They can be dried and ground as a paprika pepper. This one too is from Hungary.
Another pail has dozens of long slim Cayenne peppers. Some are still green and many have ripened to a brilliant red this year. These are my old standby for that hot pepper taste when I am making foods that need that bit of extra heat!
Another favourite is Marconi Red, another Italian heirloom with its sweet and large blunt-end three lobed fruits. They too are excellent for frying and can be used either green or red in salads or anywhere you need a sweet pepper. In a good year, I have had them grow up to 12 inches (30cm) long.
Each pepper in my collection has its special place, its own special history and a use for which it seems just perfect! When people ask me which one I like the best, it is like trying to decide which child in a family is best or which meal is your favourite. They may be very different from each other, but each has its own special qualities that I really appreciate.
When I am faced with buckets of fresh peppers and have enough pickles made for the year, I dry the remainder for use until the next crop is ready. My favourite method is to thread five or six on a piece of heavy thread with a large darning needle. I make sure to push the needle through the center of the stem where it is strong and tie the ends of the thread together. Then I put a label on the string and hang them in my warm loft until dry. Most will continue to ripen and turn red as they dry. A special coffee grinder makes a fine powder that I put in spice jars and used to spice up my life! (I have to take care with the hot ones by washing my hands really well after handling them. Some people prefer to use plastic gloves, but I take my chances).