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Pepper

( Originally Published 1933 )



CAPSICUM ANNUUM, L.

Solanaceae Perennial (in the South) Annual (in the North)

The modifying adjectives of the names indicate the variety of shapes and colors of the peppers. Only a few were given, for, according to one writer who has counted them, there are "fifty mild and edible ones, for those who have acquired the taste; twelve hot ones for pickles and sauces; and six ornamental kinds." The Capsicum annuum is native to Central and South America, where it is a perennial woody plant, but in northern countries it is grown as an annual. The whole plant is smooth and some-what shiny, and with its colorful fruits and neat habit of growth makes a decorative pot plant for the house in winter.

Stem. The stem is woody, much branched, and grows up to eighteen inches or two feet.

Leaf. The leaves are pointed, slender, with margins curling in and somewhat fluted.

Flower. The creamy white flowers have a short calyx and often face downwards, and like their relatives, the deadly nightshade, they have five flat-pointed petals and measure about three-quarters of an inch across. The stamens are greenish, shorter than the pistil, and all are bunched together in the center of the blossom. The fruits and flowers appear simultaneously on the plant.

Fruit. The fruits are podlike, hollow, generally pendant with a thick covering and contain the white kidney-shaped seeds. The larger the fruit the milder the flavor. The seed catalogues give a long list of peppers, the fruits of which vary in length from two to six inches, and in form from those like clustered cherries to huge bell shapes, and in color some begin green and turn red as they ripen, while others are yellow or dark violet when ripe. The variety pictured in this book bears shiny twisted tubular fruits with pointed tips which at first are bright green and later turn a brilliant scarlet. According to the catalogue, a variety called "Rainbow" begins green, then turns white, then golden yellow, and finally ends its chameleon-like career under a brilliant scarlet cloak.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

Peppers were said to have been brought to Spain by the physician in Columbus' fleet in 1494. In South America numerous varieties had been cultivated. The Spaniards brought the chilis to the Southwest along with melons, watermelons, and onions.

In Jamaica, during the early colonial days, the juice of a pepper was put into the eyes of the slaves as a punishment. Some of the Indians were said to have injected the juice into their own eyes before going out to strike fish to help them to see better. There is a superstition that peppers grow better if planted by a red-headed or a high-tempered person, and in line with this is the following, from the Journal of American Folklore, as told by an American Negro. "My old woman and me," said he, "had a spat and I went right out and planted my peppers and they came right up."

USES

The flesh of the fruit is the portion used.

Medicine. The dried flesh of the peppers is eaten by the people of the Southwest as a stimulant to a sluggish digestion. It is also thought to be effective in curing a sore throat, for malaria, colic, and alcoholism.

Food. The southern people around the world seem to flavor their dishes with peppers. The sweet peppers are filled with cream cheese, sliced, and laid on lettuce leaves.

They are stuffed with meat, cut up into salads, pilaffs, and other rice dishes, and mixed with pickles. Tabasco sauce is flavored with peppers. The long pointed type of fruit grown in Hungary is dried to make "paprika." The dried fruits of pepper are powdered and mixed with turmeric and other spices to prepare curry powder. They are very important in Southwestern cooking where the chilis are ground to a powder on a metate and cooked with meat, and eaten as a sauce with tortillas. In the fall when the cottonwoods turn a golden yellow, the scarlet peppers strung on yucca slips hang down in long waving garlands from the flat roofs of the native salmon-colored adobe houses.

CULTURE

In the North, in February or March, the seed is sown either in a flat indoors, in a hotbed, cold frame, or green-house. As soon as the plants are up a little they are trans-planted into paper pots, so they will make a good clump of roots and not receive a setback from their next move, which is into the vegetable garden, after all danger from frost is over.

Harvest. The fruits are picked when they are ripe and dried. For the average cook, however, fresh peppers can be purchased all winter, and there is not much point in troubling to dry them unless a particular variety with a special flavor is desired.



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