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Peppers are edible tropical treasures
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The tears rolled down my cheeks, and my lips felt singed and blistered as I ate what I thought was the most wonderful chicken in existence. I may have muttered something like "it hurt so good." This happened at a beach side restaurant in Negril, Jamaica. The street vendor in the town of Gosier on the French Island of Guadeloupe, however, equaled the experience with his own scorching version.
The secret ingredient was the same in each case; a sauce made with the Scotch Bonnet pepper that makes the jalapeno seem wimpy. Whether you are into treats such as Jerked Chicken or looking for a component of that special salsa, growing peppers not only fits the tropical garden but also the Southern vegetable or flower garden.
Garden centers today offer a huge selection of peppers ranging from the sweet and mild to the tear-jerkers. There are 10 species of peppers but the only three which are common to gardeners are the Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens and Capsicum chinense, where you find the Scotch Bonnet.
Hot peppers, so popular in the West Indies and states like Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico, are gaining recognition throughout the United States. In response, grocery shelves have doubled the space allotted to new sauces.
The Scotch Bonnet and the Habanero, a named selection of the Scotch Bonnet, today are among the most sought after by pepper enthusiasts. If you love peppers and West Indian dishes, you may want to grow some of these. Take note: we are getting close to pepper planting time.
Select healthy plants that are green with strong foliage. Yellowed leaves, spindly stems or sparse foliage indicates the plant is not thriving and probably will not perform well in your garden. Choose a site in full sun with beds that are fertile and well-drained. Plan on spacing your plants about 2 feet apart, but the distance may vary slightly depending on the varieties. The peppers work well as part of an edible landscape or in garden-type rows spaced about 36 inches apart. This allows for good air circulation for the plants and permits easy cultivation.
Dig their planting holes in the garden soil before removing plants from the containers. While you may plant a tomato deeper than it grew in the container, you must plant the pepper at the same depth it is presently growing.
Feed peppers with a complete garden fertilizer, preferably one that is higher in phosphorous such as 10-20-10. Apply 2 tablespoons per plant on three to four week intervals. Dilute, water-soluble fertilizer can be used every other week if preferred or if growing in a container.
If hot peppers are for you and you've been searching for the perfect Jerked chicken formula, try this recipe:
- Jamaican Style Jerk Chicken, which serves 2 to 4 people
- 6 to 8 scallions
- 1 medium onion
- 1 to 2 Scotch bonnet or Habanero peppers seeded and minced (gloves suggested)
- 2/3 cup of soy sauce
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 whole chicken cut into parts
Place all ingredients except chicken in a food processor. Process for 10 to 15 seconds at high speed. Place the chicken in a bowl and cover with the marinade. Refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and drain off excess liquid. Cook over preheated grill with or without favorite wood. Cook for about 20 minutes on each side or until done. Serve with corn cooked on grill, rice and fried potatoes or plantains.