Capsicum pubescens

Capsicum pubescens is a late entry to the heated propagator. Whilst using the last of our homegrown Rocoto chillies it was impossible to just throw the seeds away. So, they were introduced to the chitting pod. Having sworn we would get going earlier with the seeds this year, to allow the longest growing period possible, a quick diary check reveals that these seeds are starting off at pretty much the same time as last year. So much for planning.

Alberto Locato Rocoto

Four days later the roots have emerged. Much quicker than the chinense types and almost as quick as the speedy annuums.

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Chitted Rocoto seeds

And why did we bother with these seeds? Well, it turns out we’ve got a bit of a crush on these squishy fellas. There are far less varieties of Capsicum pubescens available on the market and you would certainly never see them in a UK food store to buy. The chilli fruit are all pretty similar with thick walls, juicy flesh and matt black seeds. With a round shape: some are a little more apple shaped, others lemony and some occasionally cheeked like bell peppers. Heat levels are medium to hot and they have a punchy fresh fruit flavour. They come in a range of -green-yellow-red but not purple or white. So far.

Capsicum pubescens are the smaller group of the five domesticated species of chilli. They are further away from others genetically. They trace back to pre-Incan times in Peru. In fact it is thought that the chilli remains found in the Guitarrero caves 10,000 years ago was a pubescens type. Historically significant as the chilli in question was found alongside evidence of campfires, grinding stones and human bones. It seems chillies were considered pretty valuable food stuffs. Not much has changed in 10,000 years then.

At The Birdhouse, we only grew one plant of this type last year: the high shine red Alberto Rocoto Locato. Gifted to us by my mother. It was easy to spot in the greenhouse as the plant grew differently to the others. For one, it had tiny white hairs on its leaves. Secondly, once it had got going, it split into two branches about 30cm up. It then sprawled out sideways and needed support from other plants. It snapped easily if knocked. It had bright violet flowers, with dusty white stamen. The chillies were late to set and took a long time to ripen to glossy red, maybe a 100 days or more. It matured about sometime similar to the Scotch Bonnets and they supposedly take 120 days. The plant was prolific despite being in a smallish 2.5 L pot. Whilst it was fed well it could probably have done with more root space.

Striking purple flowers

A quick bit of research tells us that these chillies are a fan of cooler nights, although still happy basking during the day. They are far more tolerant to lower temperatures generally. Although not frost tolerant. This bodes well for a UK climate and the need for a longish growing season. They are also long lived perennials, living up to 15 years. They can be climbers or tree formations. I think we might have a few Winter inmates this year. Let the pubescens journey begin.

Chilli mussels

Mussels are a firm family fave at The Birdhouse. We eat them as a treat meal…cheap meal…a pescatarian meal (yes, well, one of the birds of The Birdhouse is mostly veggie)…a one pot meal…a quick meal…and a healthy meal.

Today’s dinner is Thai mussels served with fermented chilli sourdough. The ingredients are store cupboard items, supplemented with a few homegrown yummies and of course fab, fresh UK mussels. This time our mussels come from Loch Fyne.

A quick prep of the mussels: check they all close, discard any that don’t. Trim off any ‘beards’ and scrape off any barnacles. Then they are good to go.

Place your pot of choice on the hob. We need very little excuse to use our mega family sized Le Creuset pot (in Volcanic). Chop the broth ingredients: red onion, garlic, fresh green birdseye chilli, lemongrass. Fry in some sunflower oil. Add coriander seeds, lime leaves, cumin, lime zest and coconut milk. Bring to a gentle simmer. Pour in a little fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and palm sugar. Tip in the mussels and pop that lid on.

Leave to simmer for 4 minutes. Quickly prepare the bread and chop some basil. Be ready to serve the mussels as soon as they are open.

Plate up the mussels and sprinkle the basil on top. Squeeze a little more lime juice and season with our new condiment crush: World of Zing’s Siriacha chilli sea salt. Settle down for a tasty meal with the one (or more) you love.

You’re welcome.

The last seeds, promise

And still the chilli seeds arrive. A brief trip to Potato Day (100s of varieties of seed potato at 20p a spud) resulted in us buying not just potatoes but additional chilli seeds too. A repeat from last year, ‘Tobago Seasoning’. We had zero success in germinating this variety but we’re having another go. So far the Chinense types are responding well so fingers crossed. Tobago Seasoning are now hanging out in the propagator after their tea bath.

Thomas Etty Tobago Seasoning chilli seeds

Then, a surprise, 26 days after they were ordered, more chilli seeds turn up in the post: 7 Pot Bubblegum and Poblano. Woo Hoo! They got dunked into a cuppa and they will be introduced to the germinating station the next day. The Bubblegum seeds have a neon pink tinge to them and the Poblano seeds are the biggest chilli seeds EVER!

A free pack of Numex Christmas was also in the package. Perhaps more ornamental than culinary? They have small multicoloured chillies, thin skinned and are on the hot end of the scale. Ones to sell as pretty plants.

We are going to need a second greenhouse. Seriously.

Idle hands

It’s been too long, maybe actual hours, since the last chilli featured in our lives. Well, that’s not strictly true as we eat chilli with most meals and are compulsively checking the nursery of chilli seeds for germination and leaf growth. So to be more honest, we have not made a chilli product in a while and, after the scrummy success of the fermented jars, we are itching to experiment. Tricky though, as homegrown fresh chillies are not easily forthcoming in January in the UK. However, a local supermarket comes up with the goods.  Let’s get fermenting!

We’ve been discussing other ingredients for the fermenting jars. Pineapple is on the list, as is ginger, turmeric root, rose petals, cola, bay, mango and lemongrass.  With this far flung candy box of ingredients in mind, my attentions turn to our stores. What do we have that can be bubbled up in a jar and turned into a tasty chilli sauce?

It turns out we have some peaches, jalapeños, white onion, lime, garlic and coriander seed. Chopped up, salted and topped up with water. Current status: inert. Give it a couple of days in the sunny windowsill and Mather Nature will work her magic.

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peachchillifermentingjar

Fermenting jar of peaches, white onion, limes, garlic, jalapeños, salt and coriander seed. Top up with water and twist on the lid.

The race is on

The chillies have been chitting in their heated propagator. After their tea bath they were carefully strained then snuggled into the chitting pods (takeaway container + capillary matting). Finally they were placed into the heated propagator on the 17th January.

In the propagator the temperature stays above 25 degrees (even on the coldest of – 5 nights so far) and reaches the sweaty heights of 35 degrees +. The pods are stacked with the Chinense types at the bottom, nearer the heated base, and the Annuum varieties on top, not quite so warm.

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Without a thermostat it is impossible to keep the temp constant but it seems that most of the varieties have responded well. Here are the results so far…

Chilli (A=Annuum, Ch=Chinense)Date started chitting (after a soak overnight in some tea)Date of first germination
Jalapeno (A)17.01.1919.01.19
Serrano (A)17.01.1920.01.19
Aleppo (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Cow Horn (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Cherry Bomb (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Golden Greek Peperoncini (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Sweet Banana (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Scotch Bonnet (Ch)17.01.1922.01.19
Espelette (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Madame Jeanette (Ch)17.01.1922.01.19
Trinidad Perfume (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Padron (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Habanero Primero Red (Ch)17.01.1922.01.19
Guajilo (A)17.01.1925.01,19
Mustard Habanero (Ch)17.01.19Yet to germinate
Orange Habanero (Ch)17.01.19Yet to germinate

Not bad results for 8 days after starting.

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Jalapeno seeds starting to germinate just two days after soaking & chitting.

You may notice that a couple of previously mentioned chilli types (Poblano and 7 Pot Bubblegum) are missing from the first list. They have not yet turned up in the post. A refund will be requested. And, the very observant amongst you will have seen the addition of Serrano. These came free from one company. Lovely.

The seeds that germinated in the first few days are now in need of planting in their very first pot. These are newspaper pots filled with nutrient poor seed compost. We don’t want these tiny seedlings growing too quickly as daylight hours are still short and too much food will produce leggy seedlings. Hmmm, note to selves: do we need to think about a lamp?

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Cherry Bomb seedlings ready to be potted up.

Off to buy some seed compost and make 100 million more paper pots.

All bottled up

In the lull before the growing season, what to do? Two out of three seed orders have arrived but it seems silly to start chitting without the other seeds. Email query sent, the thumbs are twiddling again. Ahhh, the fermented chillies! That’s what we can do.

At the end of the harvest season we collected and bottled a range of chillies. Not vast quantities but enough to play with. One jar of whole Prairie Fire chillies (plus garlic, turmeric and ginger slices). The chillies were too hot, too small and too seedy to be of much use.  Another jar filled with deseeded red Scotch Bonnet chillies and a last jar of mixed peppers (Aji Limon, Bulgarian Carrot, Fresno, Big Bomb & Jalapeños) all deseeded with garlic. Salt and water was added and the ferment was ON!

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The jars were left on the south facing windowsill. They made a beautiful display. Then things got a bit lively. Fizzing and overflowing despite the lids being screwed on super tight. Saucers were put under the jars and they were left to continue their journey. They’ve been sitting there since October, quietly bubbling, fermenting and developing a wonderful flavour.

It turns out that making a fermented hot sauce is not tricky at all. Strain the contents of the jar. Whizz up the chillies with a bit of the fermenting water, some apple cider vinegar and this case, some honey. Other flavours can be added at any stage of the process. Cook it up and/or can it if you want it to halt the fermenting process there & keep outside of the fridge. If not, it will keep for a month or so in the fridge, and will continue to ferment.

And the end result? Fermented super hot Prairie Fire chillies make…yes you guessed it…a super hot chilli sauce. The mixed peppers made a more orangey hued sauce. Hardly any heat (although maybe my mouth was numb from tasting the Prairie Fire sauce?) Yummy all round flavour. The Scotch Bonnet sauce is beautiful. An almost glowing scarlet sauce with a stunning flavour. Hot, yes, but the flavour is worth it. Off to order some more Scotch Bonnet seeds for this year, despite the Chinense category being over subscribed already.

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Left to right: Prairie Fire, mixed peppers, Scotch Bonnet

How hot is too hot?

Germination was erratic with some chillies last year. What were the factors? It’s hard to tell as the chillies can’t tell us. Temperature is cited as a key factor. This year we will be attempting germination as follows:

  • Chitting, not in soil or vermiculite. This way it is really obvious what is going on with the seeds.
  • Keeping a consistent temperature, night and day.
  • A high enough temperature for the Chinense type chillies. These all seem to prefer a hot kickstart. It looks like a balmy 27 degrees might suit most chillies.
  • Not excluding light. Airing cupboards are a no no according to some folk.
  • Be patient. With some chillies listed as taking up to 6 weeks to germinate it it a waiting game.
  • Maybe a soak the seeds in some warm strong tea, to act as a chemical scarifyer.

Other charted information for future reference and in preparation for the pot stocktake and greenhouse reorganisation in February.

Chilli
Latin group
No of days to germinate
Suggested germination temp
Days to maturity
Height of plant
Pot size required
Cherry BombAnnuum10-21 days21oC80 days60-75cm3L
EspeletteAnnuum14-21 days24-35oC80-90 days50cm-1.5m3L/7.5L

Cow Horn

Annuum10-21 days24-29oC75 after potting on1m (tall)5L

Guajilo

Annuum10-21 days24-32oC85 days1.5m (yep, big)7.5L
Habanero Primero RedChinense11 days-5 weeks32-35oC45-60cm3L

Aleppo

Annuum21-30 days21-29oC80 days to red from potting on1.2m7.5L
7 Pot Bubblegum
Chinense21 days22 oC90 days1.1m7.5L
JalapenoAnnuum10-14 days18-27oC75 days from seed1.5m7.5L
PoblanoAnnuum6-12 days21oC75 days from potting on1m7.5L
Pimientos de PadronAnnuum14 days24-32oC55-68 days2m7.5L, then the ground?
Golden Greek Pepperoncini
Annuum7-21 days29oC bottom heat85-95 days1m5L
Sweet BananaAnnuum12 days18 oC75 days40-60cm3L
Trinidad PerfumeAnnuum5-7 days 14-28 days elsewhere21-24oC80-85 days 71-80cm5L
Madame JeanetteChinense12-21 days22-28 oC90-100 days85cm5L
Orange HabaneroChinense11 days-5 weeks24-32oC120 days from potting on70cm x 70cm3L
Mustard HabaneroChinense11 days-5 weeks24-32oC100 days75cm3L