Friday, October 15, 2010

Tomatoes on the wane, but peppers still going strong

Our vegetable beds usually look pretty sad at the end of a long hot summer and this year it’s no different. The tomato and squash plants have wilted, and pretty much everything else has gone into decline as well. After a very late start, we ended up having a decent tomato season but with more fertilizer we could have done even better. My favorite tomato variety this year has been Lemon Boy, a smallish yellow tomato that came back from seed. For me it has the perfect combination of sweetness and acidity.

Still going strong are our peppers—orange bell and several varieties of chiles. They’re plump and shiny and look so cheery amidst the shriveled denizens of our vegetable garden.

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Freshly picked orange bell pepper

Heather picked a red Anaheim the other night and it was hotter than we had expected, but with a wonderfully sweet, almost smoky flavor. It added a perfect note of spiciness to the quinoa pilaf Heather made that evening.

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Red anaheim pepper

For me, there’s something magical about peppers. I still remember driving up New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley in September of 1991, and there were peppers everywhere: drying on the rooftops, strung up as ristras outside doors and on patios, and roasting in giant metal drums in front of markets. If you’re a hot pepper aficionado, you must make a pilgrimage to Hatch, New Mexico during chile season!

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Japapeños

Next year I want to start some hard-to-find varieties from seed. I’ve gotten into making Mexican moles, and it hasn’t always been easy to locate mulato and guajillo peppers, not to mention the holy grail of all: the chilhuacle, the mythical pepper that is an essential ingredient in mole negro oaxaqueño, the famed Black Mole from Oaxaca. Chilhuacle has an intense fruit flavor with notes of tobacco and licorice and a subtle layer of heat. It’s impossible to find in stores here in the Sacramento area, even Mexican groceries, and just as difficult to locate online—not to mention very expensive. Growing it from seed and then drying it is the way to go for me. A good source for pepper seeds is http://www.peppermania.com/.

A few interesting tidbits about chili peppers:

Chili peppers are native to the New World and spread from Mexico to the Philippines, then India and China, and eventually from Central Asia to Hungary where paprika then became the national spice.

Psychologist Paul Rozin has suggested that eating hot peppers is a "constrained risk", much like riding a roller coaster, that allows people to experience extreme sensations such as pain and fear without exposing themselves to any real danger.

Hot peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic reaction in the body which speeds up the metabolism.

The heat (spiciness) of peppers is rated on the Scoville scale. Bell pepper rates a 0 on the Scoville scale, Anaheim 500 – 2,500, Tabasco sauce 2,500 – 5,000, jalapeño 2,500 – 8,000, cayenne 30,000 – 50,000, habanero 100,000 – 350,000, law enforcement-grade pepper spray 5,000,000. The hottest pepper ever measured, the ghost pepper (Naga Jolokia) from India and Bangladesh, sits on top of the scale with an incredible 15,000,000 Scoville heat units.

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