Sunday, May 7, 2017

How Hot is that Hot Pepper?

    Does the name Wilbur Scoville ring a bell? The only time I've heard this name is in reference to chili peppers.  After a bit of digging and research, I learned that Wilbur Scoville was a pharmacist, a research scientist, and a notable author.  He is famous for creating a scale that rates and detect the pungency of chili peppers. In Scoville’s method a specific amount of the peppers heat source, capsaicin oil, is added to increasingly larger amounts of sugar-water until a small group of tasters can’t detect the heat.  This has been a tried and true method for decades but it is subjective and after a time the tasters can become desensitized to the capsaicin.

     Currently, and since the 1980's HPLC (high performance liquid chromotography) is used to evaluates the "spiciness" of chili peppers. This process separates, isolates, identifies and measures the concentration of the heat producing components of chilies.

     Personally, I love chili peppers.  My family grew them and as a child, we learned to cultivate them for sale to many restaurants. I add Tabasco and Sriracha to almost everything I eat:  pasta, meats, seafood, tacos, pizza and more.  Last year, I grew 6 types of chili peppers and this year I plan to grow an equal number of new varieties.  Read about my favorite one here.

    To my great delight and surprise, I found a ghost chili pepper plant at the Master Gardener plant sale this past weekend.  In 2007, this pepper was named the hottest pepper in the world but has since been superseded but several others.  At approximately 1,000,000 Scoville units, this chili is considered "nuclear."  Originally from India and parts of Bangladesh, this chili has been grown for centuries but only made it to the US in the 2000's.  I don't think I can actually eat this chili but I would love to grow it as a specimen to give away to friends and family who might want to add a super kick to their already spicy dishes.  My ghost pepper is currently in a cold frame waiting for the nights to warm up before I plant it out in the garden.  Notes about its growth and habit will follow in the upcoming months.  Stay tuned!

WARNING:  Handle hot chilies with gloves and do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth after handling them.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Clay, Clay Go Away

     This photo from the internet is captioned "Red Clay Cliffs of Guam".  I grew up on Guam and the red clay was everywhere.  It was soft, slick and squishy under my bare feet after our tropical rainstorms. 

     Clay is the tiniest soil particle.  It is almost invisible to the naked eye.  I'm not sure you can even isolate a single clay particle without the use of a microscope.  Consequently, lots of clay particles can pack really closely together and form a horizontal matrix that allows them to have great surface area. This characteristic is what makes clay stick to well to itself. (Think giant hard clods of the stuff)  However, clay does have a positive side,  it is relatively fertile because its particles are negatively charged and thus, attract nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and potassium.

     As a master gardener, I have always repeated the mantra "the cure for clay is compost"  this still holds true but there are many more things you can do to loosen up that hardpan clay.

1.  Do not further compact your clay soil, do not work it when it is wet and so not step on it after you have worked it.

2.  Add good compost or well-rotted manure to your soil and dig it in 4-6 inches.

3.  Mulch your soil to prevent it from drying out and forming rock hard clods.  Use leaves, straw or even cardboard.

4.  Break up hard pan soil by planting daikon, parsnips and other deep-rooted crops.

5.  Plant cover crops like fava beans or alfalfa, they have deep roots that will help break up clay then, you can till them into the ground in the spring before they go to seed, for "green manure."

     Amending and remediating clay soil is a multi-year process, tt takes time for the organic matter to do its work.  As with almost everything in the garden, be patient, you reap what you sow.  


Thursday, September 22, 2016

PNW Pepper Profile: Chiltepin

You may be surprised to learn that the chiltepin is actually a pepper native to North America. Chiles grow wild in the southwest and Mexico, and are thought to be one of the oldest species of Capsicum peppers. The small round "berries" are slightly larger than peppercorns and are bright red or green in color.  The plants are easy to grow, they are airy plants with spreading branches and tiny leaves.

My parents used to grow this pepper on Guam and when I saw this plant at the Master Gardener Plant Sale, I snatched up the very last one.  The food memory of this pepper is so strong I just had to grow it even though it is much too spicy for me.  We used to pop the little pepper in bottles of vinegar then splash the spicy vinegar onto fried fish and meats.  Nostalgia got the best of me with this impulse buy.  

Scoville heat units: 50,000 – 100,000.  OUCH!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PNW Pepper Profiles: Cayenne

The cayenne pepper is a hot pepper.  It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.  There are many types of super hot chilies such as Thai chilis, Tabasco style chilis, the are all similar to the cayenne.

It is a thin walled pepper with many seeds and is easy to dry. I personally freeze these peppers and take out scissors to snip small bits into the dishes I cook all winter long.  I prefer to freeze them vs. drying them.

Plants get 24-36 inches tall. I grew two plants this year and each plant has close to 100 peppers on them.  The plant is such a heavy producer than I recommend a tomato cage for support as well as keeping it well watered or mulched in the heat of the summer.  Very easy to grow.

Did you know that cayenne stimulates the production of saliva, an important key to excellent digestion and maintaining optimal oral health.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings.  

PNW Pepper Profiles: Fish

I saw this pepper plant at the Master Gardener Plant Sale in May of 2016 and had to try it.  It was a rare plant to the PNW and I had never heard of it before.  I really enjoy growing new things so I picked one up.  

The plant is said to have a recessive gene for albinism and that is what causes the green and white striped leaves as well as the striped fruit. It is a gorgeous plant to look at, very ornamental and it does well in pots.  The suggested use is in seafood dishes and it can be up to 10 times hotter than a jalapeno. 

Read more about the history of this pepper here.

I have yet to try this unique pepper.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings.  

PNW Pepper Profiles: Serrano

  • The serrano pepper is similar to the jalapeno in it look (albeit thinner) but this pepper is much hotter. On the Scoville heat index, the serrano pepper can be between 10,000 and 25,000 heat units.  Serrano peppers are perfect for salsas, sauces, relishes, garnishes and more.  They are usually best when roasted.  Split them open to remove the veins and the seeds if you want their flavor but not too much heat.  (Remember when handling hot chilis to wear gloves and not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth afterwards.)

  • Easy to grow, it is a tall plant about 24-36 inches tall and produces a very abundant crop.

 I ate the red pepper in the photo with my dinner, I got through about 3/4 of it before it got too hot for me.  It has a nice floral aroma and is lightly sweet too.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings. 

PNW Pepper Profiles: Shishito

I first tried these peppers at a local sushi place in downtown Kirkland called Sushi Joa.  They were roasted or grilled and slathered with a sauce that was sweet and savory.  Since then I have gone back three times to eat the same dish.  This is a trendy gourmet pepper that is popular with chefs.

Shishito peppers have thin walls and it is reputed that 1 out of 10 is spicy.  The rest of the 9 tend to be very mild. They are usually harvested when they are green and grilled or roasted but they also make a great pepper tempura.  I found several recipes here.

The pepper plant itself is small (about 12 inches or so tall, although I have heard of them growing taller) and yields a medium-heavy crop of peppers, I planted 3 plants because I wanted tons of them.   I harvested once a week and usually ended up with 2-3 dozen peppers per week.  These plants are remarkably drought tolerant (I only watered them once a week) and disease free.  They were super easy to grow and I recommend growing them in a large pot or in a raised bed.

Pepper are 2-4 inches long, Don't mind the stunted red one, it was probably not fully pollinated.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings.