Fall Approaches the Pepper Garden

Chocolate habanero

Chocolate habanero

Our garden has done well this year. Our peppers in particular are spectacular. We’ve had enough peppers ripening to be able to use fresh ripe peppers daily and the plants are loaded with green peppers. Out of more than a dozen varieties, shishito is a new one for me that we find especially pleasing. We first came across shishitos in a restaurant in the Hamptons last summer and have since had them in high end restaurants in San Jose, Los Angeles and here in Fort Collins. We were excited to see plants available at one of our local nurseries and planted two of them. Not only do they bear heavily, but they ripen early and we have been eating them regularly, either sautéed by themselves or added to dishes. We really like the green shishitos we’ve had in restaurants, but ripe red ones are even better. I believe we will plant more than 2 next year.

I’m growing 2 new(for me) superhot varieties this year to use in my series of hot pepper/citrus wines. The chocolate habaneros have begun to ripen and I may have already picked enough for a 10 gallon batch of wine with plenty of peppers still growing on 3 bushes. I’m going to pair these with Mandarin oranges and cocoa bean hulls to make Mandarin Chocolate Chocolate Habanero wine. The other variety is called brain strain which some have described as possibly the hottest pepper in existence. I will have to be careful with this one. Our 4 plants are full of peppers and the first ones are turning ripe. They are destined to become a batch of Tangerine Brain Strain wine. This sounds like a psychedelic 60’s experience which seems appropriate after reading descriptions of how this incredibly hot pepper earned its name. My ghost pepper plant last year didn’t produce much so I purchased some ghost peppers that will be used in an Orange Ghost wine. These wines will be done in time to be described in my upcoming book, Craft Wines to be published by Story Press.

Two of our favorite mildly hot cooking peppers are Mexibells and Mole peppers. Mexibells are small, about 3 inches in diameter and ripen early with a nice heat level for adding a whole pepper to a dish for two. Moles are a longtime favorite for me with a smoky, earthy flavor and medium heat. They bear heavily and we’ve just started picking the first ripe ones that have a beautiful chocolate brown color. I’ve often described this as my favorite cooking pepper and have used it several times to make Orange Mole wine that also includes chocolate. I grew this variety for the first time in 2007 after finding seeds and knowing I wanted to make a mole wine that included chocolate like the traditional Mexican mole sauces. My first mole wine was made in 2008 and it has become a favorite wine in the cellar.

Our sweet peppers have also done well with a long time favorite being Gypsy which is a tapered pepper that bears heavily and ripens early with a sweet flavor. This is our second year growing Jimmy Nardellos which is a long skinny pepper which ripens earlier than any other sweet pepper I’ve grown. This is one of my wife Cathy’s favorites. A new one we really like is Aconcagua which is a large, long, tapered pepper that also ripens before typical bell peppers. We will be planting them again. They are a good pepper for stuffing and baking. Our favorite recipe for that is a stuffing made from goat cheese, shrimp, garlic and an assortment of herbs.

We’ve had fresh peppers to use daily for over a month now and we will have an impressive harvest of peppers at the end of the season to use in cooking and wines all winter long. The superhots will produce enough to make a 12 gallon batch of wine every year for the next several years, leaving room in the garden to grow new varieties next year. Last year’s superhot, Devil’s Tongue made perhaps the best hot pepper/citrus wine I’ve made out of 30 different hot pepper/citrus wines over the last 23 years with enough Devil’s Tongues left in the freezer to make a couple more batches. All things considered, our pepper garden has been extraordinary this year.

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