Peter Piper picked a peck…

by Zoë Abram

These weeks you’ll find different types of peppers, and also the same peppers in various stages in your share. Sweet bell peppers: first green then red or orange, and some varieties also pass through a purple stage between. Hot peppers: little yellow fish, long cayenne, smooth jalapeño, light and lean anaheims, and the poblanos, squat, dark and lobed.

I think pepper plants are the friendliest of the nightshades. Peppers are in the genus Capsicum within the nightshade family, and lots of varieties belong to the same species, Capsicum annuum, so they can cross-pollinate.  Peppers are really a perennial, but for agricultural purposes in places with frost they are mostly grown as warm-season annuals. Peppers like it hot! In spring, they need a heat pad, requiring temperatures above 80 degrees to germinate properly. And sometimes they make us wait … I haven’t yet planted peppers without worrying whether they’ll germinate at all … they always seem to take so long. But once summer comes they do well in Maryland. Even when we farm workers begin to wilt in the heat, I look over and the peppers are thriving and bushing out happily.

They are so productive, especially some of the hybrid varieties that we grow, that we need to unburden them of some of their green fruit so they can fully ripen the others to red. Even with these efforts, peppers often suffer from the same blossom-end rot that affects tomatoes, a problem caused by not enough calcium traveling through the plant. Some of our brave work shares have picked sadly through the peppers in this stage, so excited by their colors and so sad at the bad spots and the trail of rotting peppers left on the ground. But it seems now the plants have recovered and are producing the fully ripe, red peppers you see in your share and soon orange ones too.

Finding the right type of pepper makes so many dishes taste just right. An urban farm I worked for in Brooklyn chooses the varieties they grow based on their markets: the hottest varieties of scotch bonnets for people from the West Indies, Eastern European semi-sweet flavoring peppers, Thai chilies and other Southeast Asian peppers. And, conversely, almost any type of pepper can add a unique flavor to a dinner. I appreciate peppers because you can eat them raw, roasted or sautéed, in just about anything. Or preserve them: freeze them roasted or just raw, or dry the hot ones to add flavor in winter. Tell us! How will you use your peppers?

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