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by Carole Schwalm Picture of chili peppers in salsa cooking on the stove.

The chili or chile, comes from the Nahuatl dialect of the Aztecs.

Christopher Columbus was the first chile importer, and that started a trend for growing chiles worldwide.

There are more than 140 types of chiles. Some are mild and sweet and some will burn your tongue. And oddly enough the tiniest peppers are actually the hottest varieties. It is the natural oil capsaicin stored in membranes and the seeds that puts the heat in a pepper and it is so hot it burns your skin. One has to be extra careful to avoid contact to the eyes, nose and lips. (If you want milder, remove both the membranes and seeds before you use them).

Picture of a freshly picked chili peppers Chile plants freely cross-pollinate and it is not unusual to get both hot and sweeter peppers on the same plant if there the plants have an opportunity to turn up their own heat at night.

The pictures are two of our container-grown greenhouse pepper plants. They were nursery purchased Anaheim peppers known as “Big Mo.” I also wanted to show you just one day’s harvest of nineteen chiles.

Peppers, like tomatoes, need hot weather and a warm soil. Their growing requirements make them perfect for the greenhouse gardener. They also make a unique addition mixed in with flower beds or in a patio container.

Picture of chili plant in interior pot container If you want to grow your own pepper plants, start seeds indoors and then place them outside when the weather is more warm and settled. They do not like a lot of nitrogen (think growing conditions similar to what you provide your tomato plants.

Roasted peppers
A good way to save the peppers is to roast them, then cool and freeze. To roast: put the peppers on a foil-lined broiler pan or lay them on a rack, but close to the heat. (You can also roast peppers on la parrilla (the grill) for a warm and smoky taste). Turn the peppers four times or the majority of the pepper itself is dark, or blistered and loose.

Remove the chiles with tongs put them in a plastic bag or plastic container. Let them cool, then peel off the outer skin. Slit pods lengthwise and remove seeds and veins (the hot stuff). You’ll know how much of the heat you want to leave in!

1 10oz can Rotel mild diced tomato & green chiles
1 large tomato, peeled and finely chopped
6 T finely chopped onion
2 T finely chopped green pepper
1 T finely chopped canned green chile
1 large jalapeno pepper
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 T fresh cilantro, minced
1 capful of bottled lime juice
salt to taste

You can puree ingredients in a blender or chop them in whatever size you want. the salsa gets better with age.

Heat Scale
Chile peppers heat measured by Scoville Heat Scale. A 10 is the hottest and you can work your way down to 2-3.

Habanero 10+ - the red is the hottest.
Pequin 8-9
Serrano 7 - turns from green to red as it ripens.
Chipotle 5-6 - used for flavor since Aztec times
Jalapeno 5-6 - dark green, sometimes red.
Ancho 3-5
Poblano 3 - good to stuff and for sauces
Anaheim 2-3 from green to red, mild flavor

Share your experience with your chili pepper gardening or if you'd like more information.