Can You Help ID These Chile Peppers?
Can any HSBer out there help Giles ID and come up with some great uses for the chile peppers he describes below?
Giles Austin, Lija, Malta
I grow many varieties of chilies, always from seed, and there is a problem of hybridisation in collecting the year’s seeds when different varieties get planted too close to one-another. I did get one wonderful hybrid last year. Some of the seeds have come to me via the illegal African immigrants who wash up inadvertently on our shores and those of Lampadusa, in small overcrowded boats, heading for Italy. They arrive almost empty handed, never with documents, to be interned and eventually repatriated when their country of origin has been ascertained – this is a major problem as they always claim to come from war-zones so as to claim refugee status. One thing that some do bring with them are the seeds of favoured chilly plants, which, having no where to grow them, they pass on to their guards. Some of the varieties have proved very pleasing, not especially hot as such a property is not so much prized in Egypt and by the Mahgrebi, others possibly only recommended by the sturdiness of the plants and their yields. One very, very hot, and rather disagreeably flavoured variety has proved difficult to eradicate. Naturally all these are un-named, just Felfel or Bisbas or even Filfil ahmar (red) but there does not seem to be any distinction made.
I have been using a dried chili, which I believe comes from the West Indies and was sold to me in London, to make a chili oil. It goes by the unfortunate moniker of “Devil’s Penis” which I guess is the polite translation of something …… The chilly is pretty hot, certainly above tabasco, and much more importantly to me is very finely flavoured with not a hint of bitterness and has considerable length on the palate, it is almost catalytic in action like a truffle, a very small quantity giving a pervasive and fresh chili flavour through a dish. The principle reacts only in the center of the mouth and tip of the tongue, there is no sinus reaction or burning in the throat. In short, I, and all who have been game enough to try it, have been delighted with it. I have always found sauces like the proprietary ‘Tabasco’ introduce a pleasant heat but a mildly fermented incongruous taste, not to mention the otiose vinegar-iness, to most foods, for example in a spaghetti with broad beans or artichokes and ricotta, though fine on oysters or other raw sea food.
I have looked in my few books on chilies and searched the Web and been unable to find any reference to this variety – plenty of other references on the Web of course! I would like to know a proper – and slightly more respectable name if possible.
I now have these chilies growing inadvertently outside my house, in the busy and dirty street! Having made a batch of chili oil last year, I discarded the detritus on a group of planters to deter the neighbourhood stray cats. Quite effectively at that. Three plants came up from about 100gms (4oz.) of chili seed and are flourishing in the most inhospitable of conditions – they are in full sun more than half the day and that in Malta is hot. In fact close to the wall the heat in almost insupportable. They germinated last year too late to generally set fruit and seed ( I got four seeds only – all sterile) but they have survived the winter and are carrying a mass of fruit this year.
These chilies, despite their name, have nothing in common with the ‘novelty’ varieties. There is no glans-like tip, they come to a defined point and when fully ripe are between 12.5 & 22mm long (1/2 – 7/8″) very occasionally 29mm (1 1/8″) very slightly bulbous. Leaves are tender and elongate up to 60mm (2 1/4″). They are thin fleshed, eminently suitable for drying, prolific and hold their fruit in a slightly above horizontal position but not vertical. Any ideas ?
On a completely different tack, I have just germinated a variety of red capsicum, not remotely hot, that I found in a village in Northern Poland. I have never seen anything remotely like in my travels, though it may be common to you with the vast number of Poles who made your country their home,. In fact I did not at first recognise it as a pepper, I thought it was a guava when I saw it in a fruit bowl. (which would be a very surprising and exotic object in a Polish village!) They are remarkably thick skinned and give the impression in your hand of being a solid fruit, though it does have a center cavity. Certainly extremely easy to peel too. The flavour was quite exceptional, and the meat not in the least pithy or watery. Of course could be down to the exceptional cultivation techniques of the venerable old lady who grows them, and who has a very high reputation as a gardener, everything from her garden tastes wonderful. She told me I needed to plant the seed on the March full moon, which I could not – so remains to see how they flourish, transplanted to the other end of our continent and planted when the moon was on the wane. Funnily enough, the Maltese, till very recently, never touched sweet red peppers, despite the Hispanic influences from Sicily so close at hand, only rather bitter and hungry green peppers, which they eat in abundance in season. I remember one village woman, on being given a box of red peppers, throwing them away because she thought they had all gone bad.
I would be most grateful if you could post this somewhere appropriate – that begs interpretation! – in the hope that one of your bloggers, more knowledgeable than myself, might have some useful local information on the nomenclature of these chilies
I enjoy reading your excellent blog, ‘though I doubt I shall ever get to taste your range of sauces at this remove. As with all blogs some of the comments left are remarkably inane (and not very grammatical) but that is hardly your fault!
The postings are better than good.
best regards, Giles