Sunday, 18 November 2012

Capsicums (18 NOV 2012)

In spring my mother bought a small chilli plant, I planted some sweet pepper seeds and we planned tacitly to share our produce.

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 ...

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Mark and Gaz said...

Looks like you will have some chilli plants again next year :)

Anonymous said...

Birds do not have the heat receptors that humans have, so relish in eating pepper seeds. My cockatoo loves them and I grow them for him. That was pretty cool to find chili seeds in the matchbook. What great marketing.

Diana Studer said...

that all turns full circle. What a wonderful story. Are the seeds for different varieties?

HolleyGarden said...

I didn't know all this about peppers, and how and why they evolved into being hot to the taste. Nature is so smart! Love the chili seed matches! What a fun experiment that will be next year to try to grow a plant from those seeds!

Carolyn said...

Your destiny awaits you!!!

Alberto said...

I didn't know all those things about chilli and birds, I guess slugs have some kind of receptors though since they only chew on my milder chillies! I love chillies and every year I grow some new variety, a nursery close to home has always a vast selection and you can't just look and go away.
The trick is when you find yourself buried by chillies at the end of season and you don't know what to do with them. I dried them, made chilli oil, chilli paste, I gave them away and I'm waiting for the recipe to make Tabasco. Every year you grow 3-4 plants and you could have enough chillies for the rest of your life! Have a try with your hot matches and let us know!

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Clearly your subconcious wanted you to grow chillies ;-) Great marketing idea.I was quite sad about your Mum's chilli plant, so I am glad to think of you growing your own.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I am best at growing hot chiles and now I know why. It appears you are meant to grow hot chiles the matches.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful vibrant fruits.
What a wonderful idea giving away seeds. Do hope you can produce a plant.

Alistair said...

Haven't tried growing the Chillies b-a-g, but our green peppers this year were all distorted in shape. If I had your experimental and scientific mind I would have probably tried to find out why. I recently heard about a light coating of chilli powder on bird seed keeping the squirrels away.Enjoyed your post as always.

PatricK said...

So sorry to hear about your Mom but you do have a charming story about her last days. Don't know why it survived in standing water. I love the pepper seed packaging that offered a lot more that lighting cancer sticks. That's the great thing about images loaded into a blog because you'll always have access to them and fondly remember your mother.

debsgarden said...

I love that the packet contained pepper seeds. You must plant them in memory of your mother. Hot peppers love our climate, and I have been successful growing them with little effort. The problem is that I don't like to eat hot peppers. I grow them mainly because I can, and I think they are pretty.

b-a-g said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Diana - they are serrano chilli seeds.

I would actually prefer to grow jalapeno peppers as they can be used as a chilli and a vegetable, however as Carolyn points out my destiny awaits so I'll plant these seeds anyway in memory of my mum.

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