Capsicum likes it hot — cayenne peppers

The cayenne pepper is a classic. More hardy and disease tolerant than most hots, the cayenne is the perfect intro pepper for a gardener who is looking to start getting into hot peppers. I got a packet of five seeds in a seed exchange this winter and am lucky to have had four of them germinate.

I love learning where my food comes from and the history of the cayenne is rich and fascinating. These peppers come from the Cayenne region of French Guiana (currently an overseas department of France) in South America along the Caribbean coast. Their name comes from the word “kian” of the native Tupian people in the region. As a particularly old variety of pepper, it has been used for thousands of years in South America in both culinary and medicinal capacities. Given how tasty the pepper is, it is no wonder that the cayenne has spread across the world and is featured in many different cuisines. Most of its popularity around the world is due to the Portuguese traders who first came to northeastern South America in the 1500s and then the subsequent trade routes that they and other western empires established. No doubt it was a hit in the spice trade! cayenne_seedlings

Here are my little seedlings that connect me to history. Given how excited I am for them, and how relatively late I got the seeds going, I plan on keeping these guys in pots and overwintering them similar to my habanero plant. The weather in Chicago has been exceptionally grey, chilly and dreary these last two weeks so I have been coddling my cayennes under a grow light with my fish peppers and Capt.Capsicum’s beloved Basque pepper seedlings. I didn’t pre-soak my seeds in water (something I deeply regret) so even on a radiator, it took about a month for these peps to germinate. That is something I would have expected from a capsicum chinense cultivar, not capiscum annum. After such a long time for germination, I am pleasantly surprised at the rate of growth I am getting from these though and I admit they have been much more healthy and vigorous looking that my fish peppers.

As for my plans for these pretty long hot peppers? Decorating. Drying. Marinating. Eating. I am excited to thread my cayennes on a needle this fall and hang them in front of a window to dry  all the while pretending I live in some far off exotic hot climate instead of where week long stretches of subzero temperatures are not a rare occurrence. Between all my other house plants and my upstairs neighbor constantly blasting the radiators, I have created a very convincing tropical oasis for myself. I am excited to stick a few of these in some olive oil and use these to spice up our Sunday morning eggs. Of course, as always, eating. At 30k – 50k scoville units, these are just the right amount of heat to add to dishes without too much worry of being overpowering. Growing cayennes and other hot peppers in Chicago sure is a fun challenge.

Can’t wait for the next update. Till next time, hot peps!

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