Magazine article The Spectator

Sweet and Red

Magazine article The Spectator

Sweet and Red

Article excerpt

Food for thought

In Frame they call fhm piments doux, in Spain pimientos and in Italy peperoni. In this country they are known as sweet peppers, or bell peppers, or capsicums, or pimentos (the last name usually describing those cone-shaped sweet red peppers which look like huge chillies). Paprika is made from sweet peppers, cayenne and tabasco sauce from chillies, of which there are countless varieties, most of them grown in Mexico. The hottest of all is the habanero.

That's enough facts for one paragraph, and enough, too, on the subject of chillies, which are not really suited to a column on the English kitchen garden, though some of them can be grown here. Until the last century sweet peppers were seldom grown in this country, and it is probably safe to say that until the early 1950s, when Elizabeth David introduced post-war, food-- rationed Britain to Mediterranean cooking, most people would never have eaten or even heard of them. (Going back a hundred years from that time, Thackeray put red peppers into his `Ballad of Bouillabaisse', but they are not normally found among the ingredients of this Provencal fish soup.)

For those who grow sweet peppers, under glass, this is the month to harvest them. When I last grew them, I remember leaving some on the plant in the hope that they would turn from green to red and become sweeter, but they never got beyond a streaky reddish-purple colour, and their flavour was no better than when they were green. These days the peppers on supermarket shelves are green, yellow and red throughout the year, and I am always slightly mystified as to how the growers are able always to produce such uniform colours. It must be a matter of choosing the right varieties: seedsmen such as Edwin Tucker & Sons of Newton Abbot, Devon and Suffolk Herbs of Kelvedon, Essex have quite a number whose names suggest that they are bred to turn yellow and red.

About strips of raw peppers in a salad I have no particular feelings. They don't seem to add much, except colour; but they are certainly worth dipping into a mayonnaise or bagna cauda. When cooked, however, they do come into their own: they are no longer indigestible and their flavours (this is truer of the red and yellow than the green) are released. …

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