Are you a chilli fiend? Then why not grow your own chillies this year? You can choose from a wide range of sweet, hot or unusually shaped chillies, and store them for months.
Choosing your Chillies…Do you want to grow hot, mild, large or sweet chillies? These days there’s an enormous variety to choose from. The Real Seed catalogue stocks an excellent range of chillies that they’ve tested or bred, ranging from Iranian cherry chillies to bright purple or lemon varieties. If you live in the south, follow the example of Riverford farm and try a couple of their favourites: Cherry Bomb (mild) and Cayenne (hot). Other reputable suppliers include Seeds of Italy and the South Devon Chilli Farm, both of whom had seeds featured in the Gardener’s World Chilli Trials.
Sowing and Growing ChilliesEven those without a greenhouse or vegetable garden can still grow chillies – a sunny windowsill is perfectly alright. You can sow seed indoors, in a polytunnel or greenhouse, from February onwards – it needs a temperature of 21-27 degrees C to germinate. Once seedlings have a pair of true leaves, transfer them gently to pots of their own – and when they have five or more leaves, you can put them into their final pots or positions. Make sure the seedlings don’t get too dry or hot, which might prevent fruit setting.
Drying your Chillies
Once they’re ripe (check the packet to see whether you should wait for the chillies to turn red), your chillies can be dried for storage. You can either hang the plant upside-down in a warm place (like a sunny conservatory or porch), or remove the chillies and thread them onto cotton using a needle. A knot between each one will keep the chillies separated as they dry out. Chillies are best dried slowly. Once fully dehydrated, they can be processed to provide chilli flakes for cooking, or stored in an airtight jar.
Making Chilli Jelly
Chilli Jelly is a beautiful gift for family and friends at Christmas. It’s based on the classic apple jelly with the addition of bright chilli pieces suspended in the jar. Be careful to taste the chillies first to decide how many to include. Make it in early autumn, when cooking apples become readily available.
- You need:
- 10-15 ripe chillies, whole
- 2lb cooking apples, whole
- 1 pint water
- Caster sugar
- Jelly straining bag or piece of muslin and a sieve
- Preserving pan (a large, non-reactive saucepan is fine) with lid
- Sterilised jars with lids
Remove bruised parts from the apples and halve them, leaving the seeds and stalks intact. Halve 5 of the chillies too. Put the apples and chillies into the saucepan with 1 pint of water and bring slowly to simmering point, then simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft. Strain the liquid through the jelly bag or sieve lined with muslin – don’t press the fruit, as this will make a cloudy jelly. You can leave the fruit in the bag overnight to drip through.
Measure the resulting juice. Pour it back into the clean pan and add 1lb sugar to every 1 pint. Seed and finely chop the remaining chillies, and add them to the pan too. Put two saucers into the freezer for testing the jelly. Now bring the sugared juice gently up to simmering point – resist stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then scrape any crystals in from the sides. Simmer until the jelly reaches setting point. (To test for setting point, drop a teaspoon of jelly onto one of the cold saucers. Leave for 5 seconds, then prod it with your little finger; if the surface wrinkles, the jelly is ready.)
Finally, spoon the jelly carefully into sterilised jars, seal while hot, and label once cold.