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Last Year This Year

Here we are again in the middle of winter.

If we can’t fuss over our precious plants at least we can sit around the fire swapping tales about them.

Before I get on with this year’s  inane ramblings I quite like the idea of a review of 2010, chilliwise, that is. Once the season got well underway blogging was soon forgotten. It really is a winter activity for me, it seems.

June/July saw the Chillihouse project, which involved the partial demolition of our garage and the construction of the biggest Meccano set that I’ve ever had the pleasure of. Overnight the house was emptied of all its plants. But not for long. The thirty-odd plants grew as you might expect them to in such an ideal environment and, one-by-one, many of them came back into the house to repopulate the conservatory and the windowsills. The Hot Lemon didn’t mind the overcrowding and thrived, cropping very heavily, and with very little bother from pests and the like.  The only plants that suffered were the Jalapenos. They were healthy enough, but would have been bigger and more fruitful given the space.

As the season came to an end the surplus was either pickled or dried and still the kitchen is decorated with garlands and bottles. It looks great and by crikey it is useful too.

I selected a small number of plants to overwinter and prepared them in the usual way. After only a few weeks I found that every pest in the neighbourhood had found them and prepared to spend a nice winter in our conservatory. Now the whole lot are overwintering in my compost bin.

Last season started very early indeed and I learned that there is no point in sowing as early as I did. The earliest plants (from December 2009) never did as well as the later ones. However, the January and February plants were hard to tell apart after a few weeks. So yesterday I loaded my windowsill propagator with the following;

  • Habanero Orange
  • Hungarian Hot Wax
  • Tunesian Baklouti
  • Monkey Face
  • Scotch Bonnet Red
  • Jalapeno

All were bought from Nicky’s Nursery as I’m sure that I read somewhere that they were OK.  All I can say for now is that they arrived promptly and with good functional packaging, not even a hint of marketing blether. Somebody very carefully counts the seeds into the packets; if it says contents 15, that is what you will get. Nicky seems to run a very tight ship.

Last year I agonised over finding the best growing medium for my seedlings. Being a card-carrying member of the RSPB using anything with peat content was simply not acceptable. Coir would be ideal if it wasn’t for the thousands of miles it has to travel to reach these shores. Home made composting was still on the to-do list. But those little peat pots in old stockings are just so damn neat and easy and. . .  yeah, more principles got flushed away at the altar of convenience.  I also used coir.

This year I have a compost heap, but don’t plan to open it up until spring comes round with its potting-on frenzy. So yesterday I spent sometime in the shed nosing about for left over stock. I found a coir brick that Sue had bought from some horticultural event during the course of last season. I think that she bought it so we could while away our long winter evenings adding water and watching it swell to bale like proportions. Once again my principles were compromised, as the prospect of trawling around the garden centres and coming back empty-handed and disappointed made me consider the brick in my hands as the better prospect. To not use it would mean that the thousands of gallons of diesel burnt to bring it here would have been a total waste. For receptacles I considered a years worth of toilet roll centres (there is no such thing as rubbish to a gardener) but remembered how horrible they are to handle when sodden. Instead I found some wind-blown plastic propagator trays with the little pre-formed cells. I believe it is now called ‘upcycling’, turning potential landfill into something useful. The coir made what appears to be a good growing medium, with only a fraction of the brick swelling up to fill the mop bucket.

I’m very pleased with my little nursery. I looks good and the seeds themselves were the only thing that cost me money, about eight pounds I think.

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Hello everybody. I hope that your chillies are growing well. I thought that it was about time that I let you all know how mine are coming along.

Bhut Jolokia.

These are coming along nicely; I just hope that we have a long enough summer for them to ripen. There are so many flowers too.


Cheyanne.

I’ve been eating these little beauties for a few weeks now. Not as fruity as they look but nicely hot.


Jalapeno.

Lots of these. Fleshy and mild; been eating these for weeks too.


Cayenne.

Lots of these too. They look fantastic but so far have been dissapointing with tough skins and little heat.

The Sprite (Piri Piri?)

Hundreds of these on only 3 plants. They are starting to ripen but remain untested this year. The fruit from which the seeds were taken was fierce though.


I have Habanero (the Pot Noodle Chiilies) and Scotch Bonnets too. Next year I’m growing more Scotch Bonnets; grown from a seed taken from a shop-bought pepper it is such a prolific fruiter, although none have ripened yet.

Also, I harvested my first mature Hot Lemon and guess what? Yes, it is indeed very lemony and very hot too! These plants are amazing, about five feet tall and heavy with peppers.

Top Tip. To properly taste a pepper leave it in your mouth until most of the capsaicin has burnt off ; when your eyes stop watering or when your other half stops looking at you and wondering if you’re having a stroke.  At this point munch away; you’ll be suprised at just how flavoursome even the hottest chillies can be.

This wonderful sauce can be used as a marinade, an ingredient, or simply by itself; as a dip, a drizzling sauce or even scooped out of the jar out with your finger.

This is my version. There are as many different versions as there are people making it.

You will need;

  • a generous tablespoon each of caraway and cumin seeds. Roast these to bring out their full flavour.
  • two teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • two teaspoons each of red wine vinegar and tomato puree
  • 100ml good olive oil
  • the flesh of two roasted red peppers (discard the skin and the seeds but hold on to that gorgeous juice generated by the roasting)
  • four cloves of garlic ground to a pulp using a good pinch of salt
  • don’t forget the chilli! I used two Scotch Bonnets the last time that I made it. Next time I might use dried Bhuts, their flavour would be ideal here

Blend the whole lot together and tweak with a little bit of this ‘n’ that ’till you’re happy.

This paste will keep well in the fridge. If you would prefer a runnier sauce replace the tomato puree with blended tomatoes.

A sight that gets me reaching for a paintbrush!

Is That a Flower?

Natalie, I suggest that you look away now.

I really don’t want to show off but I really can’t help myself. I do believe that my plants are approaching puberty.

Look . . . .

Is that a little flower bud coming there? I like to think that it is! And to think that I knew it when it was just a seed.

By way of an update, my crèche now consists of;

8 Bhut Jolokia, 6 Cayenne, 6 Hot Lemon (thanks Elin), 5 Jalapeno, 4 Cheyanne, 3 Piri Piri (?), 3 Habanero (from the ‘Pot Noodle’ style purchase) and 1 Scotch Bonnet. I plan to add others as I find them at nurseries and I will be also giving plants away as there’s no way we have space for this lot when they have all grown up!

Three times this week I’ve splashed this sauce over my food and it’s still only Tuesday!

It really is time to share the recipe with you. Try it and let me know what you think. And if you want to suggest variations to the recipe that might improve it please let me know; I’m running short of the stuff and will need to get the cauldron out again soon.

To make a decent amount you will need a carrier bag full of fleshy red peppers. Roast them until the skin becomes charred and papery, then leave to cool for a bit as they will be far to hot to handle.

When cooled enough to handle without damaging your hands peel away the skin. Also remove and discard the core and all the seeds but be careful to save all the luscious juices that are released as you do this, they have a sensational caramelised pepper flavour. Roughly chop your roasted pepper flesh and place in a pan.

Now add your fresh chillies, use whatever you can find fresh. I have the choice of Scotch Bonnets or Naga; your local supermarket will have something suitable too. Be brave and make it hot.

Add the juice and zest of  half-a-dozen limes, as well as adding a citrussy zing this will add to the acidity of the sauce meaning that you will only need to add a half pint or so of vinegar. Use cider vinegar if you can, I find it blends better with the other flavours.

Gently heat it through for about 15 minutes or so, adding sugar and salt to taste.

It will last for ages in your fridge. . . . if you can leave it alone.

Remember to let me know if you try it. Thanks.

Social Networking . . even the police are doing it Tweeoples!

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I really don’t know what all the professional horticulturists are playing about at. It’s that simple.

This is grow-your-own food for the Pot-Noodle generation. Our local ‘discount’ store are selling these for £1 each, and surely no Chilli aficionado could resist such an offer (well, I couldn’t). For your pound you get a nifty looking pot, some powdery compost and 15 Habanero seeds. The instructions recommend that you pour in 100ml of water, add the seeds and up will pop ‘unusual fruit with fierce heat’, which sounds just wonderful.

However, no-where on the pot does it give any indication of when this might happen. After a week of mounting excitement all I have so far is a little condensation. Knowing a little about these things I know that a week isn’t long enough but the whole concept is making me impatient; this is convenience marketing and packaging design where it really doesn’t belong.


Open, Pour, Water, Grow  . . . Where’s my Chillies?

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