|Text and Photographs by Dave DeWitt
Recently I've been reviewing my archives of chile pepper photos shot during the past two decades or so, and they bring back so many good memories of travel and gardening that I decided to share my favorites with my readers. These pictures cover all five of the domesticated species of Capsicum.
|Sonoran Chiltepin |
Capsicum annuum var. 'Aviculare'
Often called the "Mother of All Chiles," this variety is indeed the ancestral beginning of all the annuum
pod types. This photo was taken in my greenhouse, where I grow chiltepins as perennials, and the plant was grown from seed provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH
, a Tucson-based organization devoted to preserving native plants of the Southwest and Northern Mexico.
|Chiltepins Drying |
On a trip to Sonora guided by my friend Antonio Heras, we met chiltepineros who harvest the tiny but fiery berries by hand in the foothills of the Sierra Madre range. This photo was taken in October, 1990, and it shows chiltepins drying on white linen in the village of La Aurora. For an article on this trip, go here.
Green and Red Serranos
Capsicum annuum cv. 'Serrano Sinahusia'
One of the favorite Mexican chiles, several cultivated varieties of serranos are grown for use mostly in fresh salsas. This shot was taken in my back yard garden in Albuquerque, where the plants grew very bushy and were highly productive. For a Pepper Profile on the serrano chile, go here.
|Canarios in the Mercado, Mexico City |
Capsicum pubescens cv. 'Canario'
Canarios are the yellow form of the variety commonly called rocoto. Imported from Peru to the mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala, these chiles have become very popular and are used in sauces and salsas. They are the only chiles with black seeds, and the flesh of the pods is very thick and aromatic. Canarios are quite hot, too. For more information on this variety, go here.
Chilhuacle Rojo in the Mercado, Oaxaca City
Capsicum annuum cv. 'Chilhuacle Rojo'
On a trip to Oaxaca to videotape segments of our documentary on chiles, "Heat Up Your Life," our guide Jose Marmolejo took us to the market, where we found dozens of chile varieties that are grown only in Oaxaca and nowhere else in Mexico. These chilhuacles are used in the famous mole sauces of Oaxaca and are difficult for the cook to find in the U.S. For articles on mole sauces, go here and here.
Capsicum baccatum cv. 'Aji Amarillo'
(Note that there is an acute accent on the "i" in Aji that does not show in this format.) Translated as "yellow aji," this variety is one of the most commonly grown chiles in South America, where all chiles are generically called "aji." This pod grew on a tree-like plant in my garden that was nearly six feet tall. The pod was six inches long and had medium heat. For a Pepper Profile on the baccatum species, go here.
Brazilian Bird Pepper
Capsicum chinense var. 'Pimiento do Cheiro'
A Brazilian wild form that fills the same niche in the chinense species as the chiltepin does in the annuum species, this chile matures to yellow and has the characteristic fruity aroma of the chinense varieties like habanero. This plant was grown from seed provided by a member of Seed Savers Exchange, which has the best collection of exotic chile seeds anywhere. For a Pepper Profile of related habaneros, go here.
Congo Pepper Seedlings at the Botanic Station, Tobago
Capsicum chinense cv. 'Congo Pepper'
These seedlings in the bamboo incubators are provided free to the gardeners and farmers on Tobago. During our one-day taxi tour of this small but beautiful island, by a weird coincidence, our driver's brother was the director of the Botanic Station, so we got the grand tour of the facility. "Congo" means fierce or powerful in the slang of Trinidad and Tobago.
|Congo Pepper Pod |
This huge pod in Mary Jane's hand had the most pungent fumes of any chile I've ever cut open and literally drove us out of our room at the Kapok Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad. We had to open every window and turn the air conditioner on full blast to clear out all the fumes and it was twenty minutes until we could return to the room! Congo peppers are extensive used in Trini cuisine and often spice up the classic Callaloo Crab Soup.
Trinidad Seasoning Pepper
Capsicum chinense cv. 'Trinidad Seasoning Pepper'
The fact that all chinenses are not intensely hot is brought home by this mild variety that is probably the most flavorful of all of them. In Trinidad it is combined with various herbs and spices to make seasoning pastes that are rubbed on meats to be grilled and also are stirred into soups and stews. There are various forms of seasoning peppers throughout the Caribbean.
The Almost Fatal Fatalii
Capsicum chinense cv. 'Fatalii'
This chinense variety is from the Central African Republic, but how it got there from the Amazon Basin remains a mystery. Harald Zoschke theorizes that slaves returning to Africa from Brazil brought the seeds in his Pepper Profile, here. The Fatalii matures to yellow and is intensely pungent. The plant this pod is from grew well in my garden and I used some shading to protect it from the intense sun in Albuquerque at a mile high.
Rica Red in the Rain
Capsicum chinense cv. 'Rica Red'
Here is a variety that was developed by Quetzal Foods in the mid-1990s specifically for the hot sauce industry. We visited their fields in the appropriately-named town of Los Chiles in northern Costa Rica, where it rains 120 inches a year. I love the raindrops on these Rica Red pods.
The Perfect Chile Jewel
Capsicum chinense cv. 'Peruvian Shiny Red'
This is the most beautiful chinense pod that I've ever grown, and the plant itself does very well in pots. The seed came from Seed Savers Exchange and was part of a chinense grow-out that Dr. Paul Bosland and I did for our book, Peppers of the World.
Harvesting in the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico
Despite advances in the technology of mechanical harvesting and labor problems along the border, some chiles must be hand-picked. These workers are using old-fashioned techniques to harvest New Mexico's State Vegetable, which is really a fruit. For an article on the chiles of southern New Mexico, go here.
|New Mexican Paprika |
Capsicum annuum cv. 'Paprika'
Many people don't realize that New Mexico farmers also grow paprika, which is used to make a natural red food coloring. The definition of paprika in the U.S. is any non-pungent red chile. New Mexico also has the only oleoresin extraction facility in the U.S., Resolex in Radium Springs.
Chimayo Chile Pod
Capsicum annuum cv. 'Chimayo'
Chimayo chile is a land race in northern New Mexico, meaning a cultivated variety that has been grown in the same region for hundreds of years. Sadly, commercial cultivation has declined in recent times and virtually none of the chile powder marketed as "Chimayo" is actually that variety. Recently, the Santa Fe Institute for Native Hispanic Culture has supported farmers to grow Chimayo chile. For an article on threatened New Mexican land races, see here.
A Burst of Ornamental Beauty
Capsicum annuum cv. 'NuMex Centennial'
Under the direction of Dr. Paul Bosland, New Mexico State University horticulturists have developed many beautiful ornamental varieties, including this one that is named for NMSU's centennial anniversary. For more information, go to the Chile Pepper Institute, of which I am a founding board member, here.
A Bucket of Tabascos
Capsicum frutescens cv. 'Tabasco'
I photographed this harvest on Avery Island, Louisiana. These pods are grown only for seed, as commercial Tabasco production for pepper mash for making the classic sauce has moved to Central and South America. Tabasco Sauce is still the top selling hot sauce brand in the world.
In the Bangkok Wholesale Market
Capsicum annuum cv. 'Prik Chee Fa'
I go to markets everywhere we travel to search out the particular varieties of chiles being sold, and in addition to Mexico, Thailand markets have the most number and varieties of chiles being sold. The Prik Chee Fa variety is one of the milder Thai chiles sold at the Bangkok Wholesale Market, which also has a huge display of tropical flowers.
A Peri-Peri Painting
Capsicum annuum cv. 'Peri-Peri'
This is a photograph of a painting of peri-peris in the Brand Room of Nando's Chickenland in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nando's manufactures many different hot sauces containing the peri-peri, which is a generic name for the African Birdseye Chile, featured in a Pepper Profile, here. And an article on South Africa is here.
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