The month of March brings exciting happenings in the world of gardening. We “spring ahead” by turning our clocks forward an hour in March to usher in the arrival of Spring and with this much anticipated arrival, we begin to start planning and planting our seeds! Starting seeds is a ritual that brings pure excitement to the gardener’s soul! The basic ingredients necessary are soil, seed, water and light.
My herb seeds were started a few weeks ago and the lettuce seed indoors just recently. This week the peeper seeds found a home in the soil and will be under my watchful eye until I see the first sprout and then until they are transplanted outside.
Peppers are relatively easy to grow and they claim their space in the garden and stay there … they don’t roam all over or invade the space of others. I found that they do take a little longer to germinate but once established they are a hardy plant and a good candidate for the first time garden grower. There are many varieties to choose from and sweetness versus hotness is one of the main components when deciding which pepper to grow.
My pepper list this year includes; Red Mini, Jimmy Nardello, Marconi, Tam Jalapeno, Alma Paprika, Long Cayenne, Purple Beauty and Padron. All I have grown in previous years; except the Purple Beauty, first year for this one. I planted or potted up the seeds two different ways; either in individual pots or in a whole flat. The reason I did this is there are several varieties I hope to grow in mass quantities; such as the Jalapeno for canning:
the Cayenne for drying and the Alma Paprika for roasting and making soup or freezing for later use. These I planted in a full tray and scattered many seeds in the soil, covered with plastic and set under the grow lights. The other pepper types are planted in individual pots (4-5 seeds in each one).
The Red Mini Peppers are exactly that – Mini! Each plant produces a good quantity of small peppers and they remind me of the typical green pepper just a smaller version.
When left to turn red they are very sweet and useful for salads since you don’t have to cut up a whole larger pepper. These I also cut in half, disposed of the seeds and froze as is. The Marconi Pepper is another sweet pepper and a real treat; left on the plant to turn red they are delicious.
The Marconi grows to about 5-6 inches in length and I snacked on them fresh and also used them for stuffed pepper dinners.
The Cayenne and Jalapeno along with the Padron are hot peppers and caution needs to be taken when handling the seeds and also the harvest during the season.
I dried the Cayenne by stringing them up using needle and thread through the stem and once dried I loaded them in the blender and processed into flakes and powder. I did try to dry the Jalapeno in the same manner, but they molded first, so canning was the solution for them. They can also be frozen whole or cut in half; same goes for the Padron which was a bit of a shocker first time around. I saw them advertised on tv as an appetizer and the seed catalog promotes them by saying “one out of 10” is hot, the others are mild. Not so in my garden! Every single one of these Padrons packed a super hot punch! The trick we found was when we harvested them and the size they were. If rather small, about an inch in size, they are neutral. Once they grow past that point, it’s all heat! I witnessed grown men crying over these peppers!
The heat scale on these peppers is based on my tolerance for hotness which is pretty low, so others may think a pepper is mild or hardly hot when they make me scream!
I really fell in love with the Alma Paprika Peppers – they can be harvested at 3 different stages.
In the beginning when they are yellow they are quite hot and they mellow out as they turn orange and then finally red. The flavor is a spicy hotness that adds just the right kick to recipes. I roasted these peppers and used them in tomato pepper soup; made in batches and froze for later enjoyment. The tomato hornworm took a liking to these peppers down south and ate quite a few in my absence.
Any of these peppers can be roasted and the procedure is as follows: rub oil on the peppers and put them under the broiler until blackened (the skins will bubble up a bit) I cut them in half so I didn’t have to keep turning them once in the oven. Remove them from the oven and place in a paper bag and seal for 15 minutes – this allows the peel to come right off and the core and seeds fall out. Chop the peppers and add to recipe.
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
1 teaspoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 red bell peppers (or equivalent other type)
4 large tomatoes – peeled, seeded and chopped
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons paprika
6 cups chicken broth
Dash of hot pepper sauce and/or ground cayenne pepper (not necessary if using hot peppers)
Roast peppers. Cook onion and garlic in oil about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato and peppers, thyme & paprika.
Cook until tomato juices have evaporated, about 25 minutes.
Stir in chicken stock, bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes. At this point you can strain the soup, reserving broth. Blend the solids in a blender until smooth and add back to the broth. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 ½ tablespoons of flour, cooking for 1 minute. Stirring slowing add the broth mixture and simmer for 10 minutes.