Friday, 29 July 2011

Pepper piggy

Time was when a title for this post would have been a riff on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the ring of fire or something a bit more culturally knowing than a cartoon pig loved by children the country over. But age and life experience takes you to places you least expect it and this was the title I kept coming back to when forming my homage to this country's rocket fuel.

My dad eats raw chillis. Fact. And yes of course he's bigger than your dad but that's beside the point, he's Mauritian and they have guts of steel. You see these are not any old chillis, they're those small potent ones you get from Asian supermarkets that other people move warily to the side of the plate, or cut up wearing rubber gloves in case they accidentally get some juice on their fingers and then rub their, um, eyes. That's right. Eyes...

Chilli plants rock

I still can't get over the fact that you can grow chillis in this country. With our weather? It's just the most awesome thing. Chillis are by definition exotic. Still the mysterious master of curries and Mexicans. A few years back some friends and I stepped into Wahaca, Covent Garden, and had a cracking dinner. But at the very end we were all given a small pack of chilli seeds. Eh? If ever a cuisine needed some cool mints to douse the fire in the mouth. But it was a stroke of genius.

My friend Claire showed that at least one (adopted) Londoner knew how to pot a seed back in the day and soon nurtured a handful of seedlings. I was stunned to see them. Genuinely. She was kind enough to gave me one of her brood which I cared for in the kitchen of my pokey top floor flat in North London which was distinctly lacking in sunlight. The plant lasted two years before giving up, and I have three abiding memories.

The second, is just how many more chillis my mum got from repotting it to a bigger plant pot compared to the one fruit, yes one, that I managed.

The first is the most important. The moment when I realised I really didn't pay any attention during biology. A bud appeared after a few months growing, and then a flower, which opened and then died. Whilst that was going on I was looking the plant over thinking 'so where do the chillis come from?' You could have said a stork delivers them and it would have been plausible at that moment. Suddenly there was a single green chilli where the flower once bloomed, which then fattened until I was ready to cook the goose off it.

And the third? Well when I came home one day to find it wasn't green any more but bright red. For those of you from the Peppa Pig brigade, it was like an ugly duckling had just turned into a swan. For the Chilli Pepper lot, the chilli had just got naked.

I grew chillis in and outdoors last year and I've got a range of chilli plants on the go this year, some grown myself and one a present (guess which one's doing best). And things are hotting up as the flowers have finally appeared.

We can only hope summer decides to make an appearance. If it does the chillis will flourish and you can take the kids to Peppa Pig world (I am not joking). If it doesn't. Well, lets pretend...


elaine rickett said...

Good post - every year I say I'm not growing chilis this year, but I always do, can't resist them.

linniew said...

Loved the story of your gardener-awakening Tom. Isn't life grand?

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

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I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.