Riverford Wicked Leeks

indian summer

We are ducking between the showers to get the last of the spring greens planted and to start harvesting our onions and potatoes. As we pass the equinox and start the descent into Winter I have given up hope of the heralded "Indian Summer". The worst thing about the rain is not the wetness or cold it is the resulting mud, which clings to boots, wheels and crates and makes everything such hard work. It pains me to see the harvesting tractors reducing our fine soil to a quagmire of ruts knowing the damage that it does to our soil structure and the years it will take to recover.

We have grown a pretty good crop of chillies this year and I hope that most of you have had, or will have, some. We tend to stick to mid range varieties, in terms of heat: Tokyo Hot (long and green and not that hot), Cherry Bomb (red/round) and Fresno (tapering/red). None of them should be devestating.

Chillies and peppers are all selections of the same Capsicum species. Like the closely related potato and tomato, they are all members of the Solanum family and originate from Central and Southern America where they have been grown for 7000 years. They were one of the first plants to be brought back from the New World about 500 years ago and their cultivation and use spread quickly eastwards. It is hard to imagine the cuisine of South East Asia without chillies but they are relative newcomers to that part of the world, arriving around 1600. Chilli peppers are unrelated to the tropical climber, which produces the black and white peppercorns.

Considering their origins it is not suprising that chllies struggle in our climate and are normally grown under plastic or glass. We sow them in a heated green house in March and plant them out in our tunnels in April. We tend to grow them along the sides of the houses where the curve of the plastic means there is insufficient headroom to grow climbers like cucumbers and tomatoes. The hotness of the chilli is all down to the concentration of capsaicin. This is mainly determined by the variety but they will also get hotter as they mature and if exposed to hotter weather.

Chilli, like garlic, has antibacterial properties. This proabably explains why, unlike sweet peppers, if you leave a chilli in a dry atmosphere, it will not rot and can normally still be used to good effect if a bit shrivelled or even completely dry. It may also explain some of the medicinal properties atrributed to chillies.