THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF NOT-SO-HOT PEPPERS

Last September I wrote a post, Chili Peppers in History and in Your Garden

about a presentation I saw by Dave Baumler.  Last year he grew 50 different types of peppers here in Madison.  This year he is starting over 100 different types, and he told me all about it yesterday.

..There is a whole world of peppers out there waiting to be tried.

When you’ve already got 50 kinds of peppers in your garden, do you really need 50 more?  Baumler feels certain there is a lot more to learn from peppers.  He has started seeds gathered from around the world.

“One of the things I’m noticing is the subtle flavors in peppers,” he says.  “Once you get past the hot, I’m starting to find there are a lot of different fruity profiles in the various varieties.  For example, there is a pepper variety that has a lemony flavor.  Some are more like apricot or green apple.  Some remind you of a sweet raisin.  There is a variety we grew that actually started to taste like melon.  I’m starting a variety I ordered from Malaysia that supposedly has a pineapple flavor.”

.Some of these habaneros are fruity, and some are fiery. There's just one way to find out.

With most peppers the heat hits instantly in the front of your mouth, but with habanero peppers, it hits a little later in the back of your throat.  That gives you time to appreciate its nuance.

In some peppers, you don’t even have to dodge the burn to appreciate their flavors.  Last year Baumler was given two varieties of habanero peppers that have been bred to have no heat.

“There is a really great flavor profile in these peppers,” he says.  “Last year my wife was making an Italian orzo dish, and asked me for some peppers.  We roasted these mild habaneros in the oven.  The whole house smelled fantastic, and it was the best orzo.”

This year Baumler has tracked down more heatless habanero varieties.  “You can boost the flavor without having to boost the heat,” he says.  “I have red, yellow and orange varieties, and I also have a jalapeño that has been bred to have no heat.”

Some of Baumler’s peppers are about as hot as they come, and he is adding more hot peppers but he is really intrigued by all the flavors he is discovering.

“I’m training my pallet to pull those flavors out and note what they are,” he says.  “There are so many pepper flavors that have not been appreciated here.  If the only peppers you have tried are bells from the grocery store — you have no idea!  These peppers taste nothing like that.”

Because peppers are also ornamental, he is also expanding the color range of his peppers.  Last year there were no blue or black peppers in his garden.  This year he is starting a black habanero.  It should look interesting growing next to his white peppers.  And he will also try a Filius Blue Pepper.  The entire plant is supposed to be blue.

“Right now I have started 104 varieties, and my goal is to have at least 10 plants of each.”

His hopes to have over 1,000 of these hard-to-find pepper plants for sale.

Last year's seedlings.

If you are curious to learn more, he’ll be presenting a workshop, “The History and Evolution of Chili Peppers,” Saturday May 21 at 10 a.m. and noon at Paradigm Gardens, 4501 Helgesen Drive in Madison, WI.

For anyone interested in seeing what’s really possible , this workshop could be your ticket to Pepperland.

Here are the details:

Workshop pre-registration is $15 ($20 on the day of the event) and includes an interactive lecture, appetizers and a jar of one of Dr. Dave’s tasty chili pepper jams, salsas or jellies.

Call (608) 241-3800 to reserve a spot.

Participants will leave with handouts full of  pepper-growing tips, and will have the first opportunity to purchase many of the amazing peppers Baumler is starting right now.  Any peppers not sold at the workshop will be available at Paradigm Gardens for the rest of the weekend.  Baumler’s collection might represent the broadest selection of peppers available in the Midwest.

Dave Baumler and some of his amazing peppers.

Baumler will also be speaking about peppers Saturday April 2 at a fund raiser for the Sauk County Master Gardener Association.  The event takes place from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at West Square Building, 505 Broadway, Baraboo, WI.

Wherever you get your pepper plants, Baumler has some advice for pepper growing success here in the Midwest.

Don’t put them out too early.

“The ground needs to be at least 55 degrees – that means night time temperatures above 55.  If you put them out too early, they will just stall and never mature,” he says.  “ I learned that the hard way.”

Everyone gets the planting bug in April, but the last week in May is probably the time to put your peppers outdoors.

all photos courtesy of Dave Baumler

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10 replies

  1. Would love to have a go at growing some peppers without heat. I love peppers but don’t take heat that well, a little is okay but not really hot. I wonder what the regulations are to get seeds from America though. You will have to let us know when they are more widely available

  2. I’m in the same boat with you, Joanna. I’m really excited to try some not-so-hot peppers. I am going to try a few this year.
    I am not going to try to get seeds at this point because in our climate we have to start peppers indoors 1-2 months ahead, and I don’t have the space.
    I’m going to avail myself of some of Dave Baumle’s research and prep.
    But if I find a source of seeds, I’ll let you know.

  3. Joanna,
    Dave Baumler has responded to your question about sources for mild habaneros. Here’s what he says:

    If you want to order those seeds, I can direct you to the source. The red and orange are called red suave habanero and orange suave habanera, available at the chili pepper institute at NMSU. The yellow are a variety called zavory habanero, you should be able to google to find where to order them.

    -Dave

    http://www.chilepepperinstitute.org/

  4. Hey Denise,
    Sorry to comment out of topic but I was just contacted by some blogger named “rogerthesurf”. Being a science blogger also living in Wisconsin blogging about climate change, he asked me to look at the discussion that you two had and try to clarify his questions that you “could not answer”. As an environmental engineering student, I could tell immediately that he was simply skirting you questions even when you answered them completely and scientifically. I suspect the reason that you stopped answering him was because he was ignoring your answers and the climate science itself. He did not seem to care about your answers, and was making simply false claims like “we can’t measure the CO2 levels accurately”, which is nonsense. Good job representing the science by the way; sometimes, even when we articulate the science as best we can, people will not change their minds. He obviously had an idea about the climate that was immovable by rational discussion. It makes me rather sad.

    Keep up the good work,

    sciencebasedlife@wordpress.com

    • Hey thanks, SciPhil

      Your comments are very heartening.

      Anyone who wants to know what this is about needs to look at the comments section of a previous blog, “What’s up there and how we know.”

      I agree it’s discouraging to run into someone so impervious to the consensus of the scientific community on a topic so crucial.

      Thanks for your feed back.

    • Yes, please do plug your great blog.
      I had a family emergency that kept me from writing a post, and I was very pleased to just refer readers to your very astute writings.
      Thanks again for contacting me in the first place.

  5. Glad to hear you can find one. I’m really curious to try them myself. We’ll have to compare notes at the end of the season. Get them started as soon as you can. They need a long growing season.

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