When it comes to picking a pepper to plant, one as almost as many choices as paint colors. Seed catalogues arrive regularly, some with as many as three pages of peppers described. So pick a pepper!
Thousands of years before, Christ, Central Americans were cultivating their chili peppers. Powerful little seasoning, they could transform ordinary grains, greens or starches into exciting foods, some fit for fire eaters. When Cortez discovered Mexico in 1519, his soldiers were quickly introduced to the healthy Aztec diet of corn, beans, tomatoes, and peppers, they quickly took these foods back home with them and they are still the basis for much of our modern cuisine.
Although they bear no relationship to the black spice pepper (Piper nigrum) of India, the hot chili peppers from the New World (Capsicums) had enough bit to earn them the name pepper, a misnomer that has lasted all these centuries.
Chili’s come in tremendous variety: a sweet red one that is ground into paprika, another round mild variety known as pimento, spicy hot peppers used in Tabasco, and others that are ground and powdered into Cayenne.
Capsicum Peppers grow well world wide. Once discovered they spread rapidly in the Mediterranean region, flourished in the hot sun of Africa, complimented Asian foods perfectly. Now pepper was no longer trade like gold (like peppercorns were) but could be enjoyed by the peasant, as once he had a few seeds he could grow, dry and harvest all he needed to make his poor simple fare richly spiced. Peppers love our Pennsylvania summer as well. Sometimes our shorter growing season makes them milder than in tropical climates they are still quite hot enough!
Discounting all the many large sweet bell pepper varieties, it is estimated there are more than 100 varieties of hot chili peppers under cultivation today. Learn more about these fascinating plants at The Pennsylvania Herb and Garden Festival.