Thursday, 14 March 2013

Amateur Chile-Growing (day 7)

MexiGeek is many things. "Gardener" is not one of them.

But I love chiles so much I'm actually attempting to grow my own.

I tried this last year too. I eventually got some green shoots in my propagator. But then I went on holiday for two weeks and when I came back they were nearly dead.

I managed to revive them, sort of, but they never flowered and certainly never set fruit.

Then a few weeks ago I came home to find that Mrs MexiGeek had bought me a chile plant already setting fruit. I don't know exactly which kind of chile because the label typically doesn't say.

(This is a common problem with commercially-bought fresh chiles in the UK.)

They are definitely a kind of capsicum frutescens, possibly malaguetas, a Brazilian relative of the tabasco chile.

The chile pods have the long, thin, tapered look of tabascos, and they remain upright rather than hanging (pendant), which is apparently typical of capsicum frutescens.

However, true tabascos are meant to ripen first to yellow or orange before turning red, while these go straight from green to red.

The other reason I think they might be a tabasco relative is that they are pretty fucking hot.

I don't know how much longer this plant will continue setting fruit, but in the meantime it inspired me to plant more chiles of my own.

Last year I planted jalapeños, güeros (Hungarian wax peppers), and something I've never heard of called the "Peruvian Purple". I'm trying all three again this year, but I've got a new chile as well.

A friend of my mother-in-law's grows her own chiles and gave me some; I saved the seeds and planted them along with the other varieties.

These chiles were yellow, but very hot, and clearly a kind of capsicum chinense (the habanero family).

They had the characteristic "chinese lantern" shape you get from habaneros and Scotch Bonnets except that they were longer, like a Naga (which is a chinense/frutescens hybrid), but even more so.

They also had the fruity sweetness you often get with ripe C. chinense chiles.

(Of course, these chiles tend to be so hot many people don't notice they actually have a flavour. But you should really try tasting past the heat. You'd be very impressed.)

At Day 7 after planting, the chinenses are the only chiles to have begun sprouting.

Look hard. There's definitely a green shoot in there.

If they continue to do well I'm curious to find out a couple more things about them.

  • Is yellow their fully ripe colour or do they turn orange and red?
  • Do they taste better when fully ripe or immature (green)?

While the new baby keeps me from having time to cook elaborate food, I'll be periodically updating you on my chiles and writing about other Mexican food topics.

Before I sign off for this week, though, here's my chile wish-list (chiles I'd like to grow at home in an ideal world):

True habaneros: when I need fresh habaneros I usually get Scotch Bonnets. Some books say they're the same thing; some say they're not. Just in case, I'd like to have my own supply of the real McCoy.

Chocolate habaneros: they don't taste of chocolate, but I want them anyway.

Chiles de árbol: the second-hottest chile in Mexico. If I had these on tap I'd make salsa picante every week!

Chiles serranos: the jalapeño is the one fresh Mexican chile you can usually buy from a UK supermarket, but god help you if you need serranos.

Oddly, there a few chiles I don't want to grow:

Jalapeños: I know I am trying to grow them right now, but that's just because they're there. These are too readily available to need to grow your own.

Poblanos: one of my favourites, and very hard to get in Britain. So why don't I want to grow them?
Because making chiles rellenos or even rajas is such a faff, I actually like having their limited availability as an excuse not to make them more frequently.

Pasillas de Oaxaca: This is my new favourite chile, but it's a smoked chile, and don't see myself smoking chiles at home. So there's no point in growing them.
Hasta luego!