Exciting Pepper Varieties and Where to Find Seeds

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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It’s that exciting seed catalog time of the year, and all us gardeners are overcome with S.A.D. No, not depression — we all have Seed Acquisition Disorder! You don’t want to go crazy, but it is time to try a few new things.

Here in Texas, we don’t do well with big, beautiful bell peppers — our summer gets too hot for them. If you live where summers are either scorching or the season is too short to ripen bells, or if you just want something new, consider one or more of these non-bell ethnic peppers. Most of these peppers will give enough for a pepper-loving family from just a half dozen plants. These are my favorites.

Shishitos (50 – 60 days from transplant) come quick and plentiful. By July, I can’t keep up with them, picking a bowlful every couple days from 6 plants. We use them as an appetizer, stick them on a burger, in fajitas, tacos, well, just about anywhere. They’re pungent but not hot at all, a small banana shape, a little crinkly. Pick them green, 2 to 3 inches long. The ones that get fat seem to be a little hot.

To prepare shishitos, pour a nice spill of extra virgin olive oil into a skillet. Drop in the peppers and sauté over pretty hot flame, shaking the pan or flipping them. As they start to pop and some color patches appear, they will soften and deflate. Remove the peppers to a bowl as they deflate. I then pour the oil from the pan over them and sprinkle with Fleur de Sel or any high-quality medium flake salt. Of course, they are wonderful cooked on the BBQ in one of those perforated bowls.

I put some up for winter by just quickly sautéing and popping them into freezer bags. Be sure to leave the olive oil in and the shishitos freeze very well for a winter treat.

‘Pequillo Pimentos’ (90 days red from transplant) are much loved in Spanish cuisine, a fat top-shape pepper, about 2 ½ by 3 inches. They are very thick-walled and sweet and always picked red ripe. They have a rather tough skin, so should be peeled either blackened and the skin rubbed off, which is excellent, or just with a peeler. Either way, use them marinated a little for a salad or appetizer. They are classic and delicious in paella, arroz con pollo or any other Spanish dish. Freeze them in a little olive oil halfway cooked.

‘New Mexico’, ‘Hatch’ type (75 days green, 85 days red) are super easy to grow, prolific and delicious. There are not-hot and hot varieties. These are delicious cut up in just about any recipe that uses peppers, super stars in any Southwest dish and perfect on hot sandwiches. Also: Italia pepper, very similar and the one to use lightly grilled on a delicious grinder with Italian sausage and grilled onions. Summer dinner on the BBQ doesn’t get much better. Freeze them, cooked, in olive oil in bags.

‘Padrons’ (50 – 60 days) are a Spanish tapas favorite. They’re nicknamed “Spanish roulette” because most are just pungent and tasty and one in twenty or one in a hundred, depending who you ask, will blow your head off. Always have a drink handy. We love these as an appetizer with a glass of cold white wine or beer. Prepare them the same as the shishitoes above — they soften but don’t deflate. If they get ahead of you, freeze some as with the other peppers, but caution that a hot one will get the rest of the batch hot.

‘Espelette’, ‘Piment d’Espellette’ (90 days red ripe) is a Basque pepper grown mostly for drying and grinding to a powder. It sort of resembles a small Italian frying pepper, about 4 inches long and an inch in diameter. Be sure to leave it on the plant until it’s fully red then dry the peppers. You can use a dehydrator or simply string them up and hang them the way the farmers in Basque Country do. When the harvest is finished and all the peppers are brittle dry, grind them to a coarse powder. I use the mini food processor. Be careful removing the lid! Give the bowl a shake and let the powder settle then funnel the powder into an airtight spice jar.

If you love Patricia Wells’ recipes as I do, you’ll note she uses ‘Espelette’ pepper frequently. If you look for it in gourmet spice stores or on Amazon, prepare to be horrified at the price. Grow your own! It would be rare to find any of these peppers in a produce market. I’ve only seen ‘Shishitos’ and they were $9.99/pound! A smart market gardener would do well to grow some and offer prep instructions.

None of the above is considered a really hot pepper. For fire eaters, the catalogs have an astounding list of varieties. If you like hot, try a couple new ones each year.

Where to Find Seeds

‘Shishitos’ and ‘New Mexico’ peppers are pretty easy to find, though some catalogs use a different name. You have to read the description to see ‘Shishito’.

‘Padron’ peppers are in several print catalogs, including Johnny’s seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

‘Pequillo Pimento’, even though frequently used and praised on the Master Chef shows and by other chefs, especially Jose Andres, is hard to find. I found the seeds only at John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden. You might also try Local Harvest.

‘Espellette’ seeds are also hard to find. The only seed catalog is Terroir but they are currently out of stock.  I found and ordered some on Local Harvest from a small grower.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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