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    Heirloom Peppers | Spring 2013 Out Here Magazine

    Expand your garden's pepper plantings for a wide range of tastes

    Make your own paprika with the sheepnose pepper by drying the peppers thoroughly and grinding them into a fine powder.
    Out Here

    Story and photography by Theresa Martz


    The tomato may be the most popular garden vegetable to grow, but peppers are not far behind. Most gardens contain bell peppers, but as gardeners rediscover heirlooms and the hundreds of varieties available from seed, these old-style peppers are becoming more and more desirable.

    There are hundreds of pepper varieties, and they come in every shape, size, color, and heat index. And though peppers are categorized as either sweet or hot, sweet is a bit of a misnomer. Sweet refers to peppers without any heat, such as bell peppers, while hot refers to peppers that taste hot and range from mild hotness to sweat-inducing heat, such as the cayenne.

    Unless you're the exception to the rule, you'll want at least one bell pepper in your garden. The standard for almost a century and the largest of the heirloom bells, the California Wonder consistently produces an abundance of large fruit measuring 3 inches across and 4 inches long.

    You might want to start your diversified pepper patch with Marconi Red, a heavy-producing Italian pepper with exceptionally large fruit — 8-12 inches in length — that's known for its delicious flavor. Roast Marconi Reds and then freeze them to eat later. They'll hold that wonderful flavor.

    Try planting a few Italian sweet peppers. They're tasty and best used fresh in salads or sandwiches, or cooked in sauces, pasta, omelets, fajitas, and pizza. Grill, stuff, smoke, roast, or saute them in olive oil, which really brings out the sweetness.

    For an Italian heirloom with just a touch of heat, Italian Pepperonicini prolifically produces 3- to 5-inch peppers on small bushy plants; Jimmy Nardello is considered one of the best frying peppers; and Corno di Toro, which has a sweet, full-bodied flavor and can be eaten raw, grilled, stuffed, or sauted.

    Make your own flavorful chili powder by growing Poblano — also spelled Pablano — peppers. Simply dry them and then grind them up with a coffee grinder to make the powder. They also are full of flavor if you choose to stuff and roast them.

    The Fish Pepper, which is of African origin, is perfect if you're interested in making spicy white cream sauces for fish and shellfish. The Fish Pepper has about the same heat as a cayenne pepper, but it's more mellow once you cook it. Use them for sauces when they're white — rather than red — so they don't muddy the appearance of your sauce.

    You can make your own paprika with the Alma Paprika Pepper, which is mildly peppery, but very sweet. On the plant, it starts out as cream white and goes to orange and red.

    If you really love sweat-inducing hot, you'll want to grow at least one of these:

    • Jalapeno — probably the best known, and plenty hot.
    • Serrano — hotter than jalapeno.
    • Cayenne — still hotter. This pepper has been used in natural medicines for centuries.
    • Thai — one of the smallest, prettiest, and hottest peppers.
    • Habanero and Ghost — probably the hottest there is.

    Try expanding your garden's pepper plantings and you'll get hooked on how the different varieties enhance your cooking.

    Theresa Martz of Virginia, a longtime organic gardener, writes about gardening at

    Web Extra

    Theresa Martz offers tips and techniques on how you can successfully grow heirloom peppers. Just click here.


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