Sunday, June 10, 2012

What's growing? - Chile Piquin

Chile Piquin is an old, traditional hot pepper commonly found in South Texas that has been around for hundreds of years. You can find this hot pepper growing wild in pastures and brush land, along river banks and on old homestead properties long forgotten but still flourishing.

A few weeks back I came across a plant that was growing in front of the old Jail as our master Gardener group was walking the perimeter discussing the latest club project. It was full of both red and green pepper and I took several of the red ones. Most of them I placed in a small jar and filled with herbs, fresh garlic and topped it off with red wine vinegar. I saved 3 of the peppers to dry for the seed and I will be planting those soon.

The history of this hearty chili pepper is thought to be thousands of years old. While it's not clear where this pepper was first discovered most point to Central and South America and others believe it is the mother of all pepper plants. I would imagine they are correct because of its unique taste, its variety of uses and that in many places it grows wild.

The Chile Piquin is hot, much hotter than a jalapeno and has a slightly fruity taste to it. For most people it is the favorite pepper to make a vinegar hot sauce that is especially good on fresh turnip or mustard greens. Others prefer to dry it and crush it to a powder to make a rich pepper seasoning. Its versatility and heartiness is what makes it very popular and recently you have been able to  find it commercially grown although I have found the plants are not as hearty and forgiving as the wild variety. I suspect they are a hybrid variety.

The pepper pods have a few seeds that will germinate if given just right conditions. It is though that a plant that bears a lot of fruit one year could produce many other plants by the net year as the peppers fall off the plant very easily. These plants product chiles year after year and seem to have a very long lifespan. They prefer damp conditions but I have also seen them thriving in a dry brush country. Many if not most Chile Piquins that are growing in local gardens in South Texas were started from an original plant. Older Hispanic households often have their Piquin plants in their front flowerbeds or going in several different places around the house.

The wild variety of those found in abandoned homesteads are surely an original heirloom variety and their seeds should be kept or new plants stared to insure we will always have a pure plant. I think this weekend I will do just that and I think I will stop by the old Jail again to see if t hat Piquin has anymore red peppers.