I should have followed her example and bought a plant as it took months for my seeds to germinate. I was so happy when the sprouts finally emerged, it slipped my mind that the whole point of the exercise was to grow vegetables to fulfil my side of the bargain. It wouldn't be the first time that I'd short-changed her.
|I assume that one of these is a pepper plant|
Chillies and peppers are in the same family, capsicums.
A defence mechanism employed by some members of this family, to protect their seeds from being digested by mammals, is to transfer some of the energy that they usually expend on coating their seeds to producing capsaicin which induces a burning sensation. The varying levels of heat produced is measured on the Scoville scale : zero for a sweet pepper, over 10,000 units for a serrano chilli and over 100,000 units for a scotch bonnet.
Instead capsicums rely on birds to spread their seeds. Birds have different taste receptors which are not affected by capsaicin and capsicum seeds pass through their digestive systems unscathed. In fact the RSPB advises that a light coating of chilli powder on bird seed will deter squirrels while leaving birds unharmed.
Many humans have learnt to balance the heat of controlled quantities of chilli with the feel-good factor of natural painkillers triggered by their mammalian taste receptors, a kind of addiction. It's thought that ancient humans noticed that hotter chillies were less prone to fungal diseases after being bored through by bugs which gave them the idea of adding chillies to their cooking to prevent food poisoning.
A research project is currently in progress to understand the compromises involved when chillies produce high levels of capsaicin, asking the question : why aren't all chillies hot ? One theory is that plants with hotter pods are less tolerant to drought.
When my Mum died in the summer, most of her potted plants died too.
The chilli plant survived as it was dumped in a bucket of sand left by a builder which turned into a pond.
|My Mum's chilli plant|
I didn't know about the antifungal properties of chillies at the time, even so I sensed that a plant growing in stagnant water might not be safe to eat and threw it away. My own sweet pepper plant will be sanitised by planting it in some fresh compost, then brought indoors for the winter so it can have a head-start next spring. I thought I might buy a small chilli plant too.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I went for a medical check-up in London. I always try to turn it into a pleasant experience by taking time out on the journey back home. On this occasion I popped into the shopping centre at Stratford, specially commissioned to open in time for the Olympics. A short stop-off at a Mexican snack-bar appealed; a small packet came with the bill. It was a split-second decision to put it in my pocket as I don't smoke, but recently we've been searching around for matches to light a candle.
When I got back home, the packet flipped open as I took it out of my pocket. It contained chilli seeds.
|not matches ...|