A City’s Harvest

November 21, 2012

Chile peppers hang to dry on a wire fence at the Community Food and Resource Center at Bartram’s Garden in West Philly. Photo courtesy of Plan Philly’s Blog, Eyes on the Street.

The 3.5 acre Community Food and Resource Center at Bartram’s Garden in just its first year of operation has already got a crop field, greenhouse, community garden and fruit orchard.

Early last Spring, more than 100 fruit trees and berry shrubs were planted by the Philadelphia Orchard Project, and the new greenhouse provided some 60,000 transplants for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest Program’s other gardens throughout the city. An additional 10,000 and more plants were given to people who wanted to start home gardens. By late summer, area high school student helpers harvested over 6,500 pounds of organic produce from the garden.

The Center was developed as a partnership program with Bartram’s Garden, Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, City of Philadelphia’s Department of Parks & Recreation, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project


A Go for Lecsó

August 14, 2012

Homegrown Banana peppers from the garden. Photo and peppers by Mike Szilagyi.

Mike Szilagyi, a Center City planner who specializes in trail development, responded recently to the blog call for photos and stories.

“Thought you might like this,” he wrote. “This morning’s pickings from my garden. No roses or flowers in my front yard – veggies! These peppers and half as many fresh tomatoes, plus onions and sliced Kielbasi, and that’s my dad’s recipe for Hungarian Lecsó.”

A quick review of on-line sources to discover what makes up authentic Lecsó revealed a number of culinary interpretations of this traditional dish of Serbian origin. Or, as food writer June Meyer says, “Lecsó can be anything you want it to be.”

Typical of many ethnic cuisines, this melange of tomatoes, onions, peppers and seasonings becomes a base for an array of Hungarian dishes. The thick vegetable stew is versatile enough to be eaten hot or cold like its French cousin, Ratatouille, or other ingredients like sausages, eggs or beans and cheeses can be added in.

Some recipes for Lecsó call for Hungarian paprika. Mike’s dad uses Hungarian Wax peppers for his Lecsó and thinks that paprika is “a bit like gilding the lily” so he doesn’t put it in. However, if using a milder pepper like the Banana pepper, the smoky rich spice kicks up the flavor wonderfully!

Wikipedia and the Budapest tourist guide website both have good information about Hungarian peppers and paprika. Turns out there are as many varieties of Hungarian peppers as there are of Hungarian paprika, and in a full range of intensities and colors. Be warned: Pepper colors or shapes are not an indicator of hotness or sweetness.

Hungarian Black peppers look very similar to the sweet Banana peppers above, but they’re a medium hot variety, similar to Jalapeño, with black-skinned fruit that ripens to a deep shiny red.

peppersfresh“White” peppers (at left) are a light green pepper with a unique flavor that is nothing like classic Bell peppers or Italian frying peppers and when dried is the basis for Magyar Paprika.

The hot and sweet varieties of Hungarian paprika all derive from the deep red pepper that was brought into the country in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries by Turks, who got pimenton from the Spanish. Paprika is a much-evolved Slavic word derived from many reiterations for pepper.

Although Hungarian pepper heritage is centuries old, as a spice paprika didn’t really become popular until about one hundred years ago. Peasants adopted the spice first before the upper classes discovered it and added it to gourmet cuisine. By the 19th century, paprika was the dominant spice in Hungarian kitchens and restaurants. All paprika was hot until the 1920s, when a plant breeder discovered a mild version of the pepper and created the sweet paprika that’s so popular for most dishes today. Paprika is, of course, the perfect ingredient in Goulash and Chicken Paprikash, plus Hungarian sausages, soups, sauces and Lecsó.

Here are Mike’s instructions for making Lecsó…

“Fry onions. Lots of onions. Stir in slices of Keilbasi and salt. Then add a bunch of chopped peppers. Then a little while later, add the diced tomatoes. Use twice as many peppers as tomatoes.  Simmer for an hour. Serve over rice.”

If  you want to add paprika to your recipe, lower the heat while sautéing the onions before stirring in the paprika, says Mike.

Below: Not Philly’s Italian Market… Packaged ground and whole dried paprika for sale at a Belgrade market.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Hot heads

July 30, 2012

Pepperazzi…created by Bob Skiba

Are your homegrown peppers ready for their closeup? Is anyone out there stalking wild hot peppers?

Make headlines! Chile heads, send your pepper photos, recipes and lore to The Philadelphia Pepper Project.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Sweet and Hot

July 30, 2012

Freshly picked, first pepper fruits of the season from the garden.

Appearances can be deceiving.

The pepper pictured on the left is not an Habanero. It’s an heirloom variety called Aji Dulce, a small sweet pepper commonly found in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Like the Habanero, it’s a variety of Capsicum chinense, possessing a similar fruity, smoky flavor, but without the heat. These flavorful sweet peppers are preferred for Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic and Cuban cuisines which typically do not call for hot peppers.

In Puerto Rico, the pepper is grown commercially and is an important ingredient for sauces such as Recaito, Sofrito or Mojito Isleno, a fish or meat sauce. In Brazil, this pepper is called Rubra or Biquinho, and is used to make a sweet jam. In Venezuela, this pepper is a key ingredient in preparing Hallaca, that country’s national holiday dish.

Because the pepper is a perennial, particularly in tropical countries, it can be brought indoors in winter in northern climates where it continues to produce if conditions are right. (I bought my plant from Bartram’s Garden in early Spring, where it was started from seed at an off-site greenhouse.) This pepper is often found in ethnic markets in northeast American cities.

In Philadelphia, landscape consultant Sam Jimenez often sources his ingredients for authentic Sofrito from Cousins Supermarket at 5th & Berks Streets. The Bronx native shares some excellent recipes on his blog Sofrito and the City. There you can find his recipe for Sofrito, which he describes as “a secret herb base used in many Latin dishes, like rice and beans, empanadas, soups and stews.”

The tiny one-inch oblong pepper next to the Aji Dulce is an ornamental hot pepper called Numex Twilight. Not an heirloom pepper, this Pequin hybrid – a  Bird Pepper – was developed by researchers at New Mexico State University in 1993. As the green peppers ripen they turn purple, then yellow and orange before darkening to a rich red. Although it’s an annual, as an indoor potted plant it often keeps producing throughout the winter months. It’s a wonderfully hardy species, resistant to most pests and plant viruses that can sometimes plague other pepper varieties.

The medium hot chile can be easily added to flavor many recipes. One small chile goes a long way. Try it in pickling, salsas and vinegars.

Here is a recipe for Brazilian-style preserved Biquinho Peppers using Aji Dulce peppers.

To learn more about Aji Dulce peppers see World Crops.org.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project


A Garden Sprouts!

June 25, 2012

Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Stop by the newest PHS Pop-Up Garden at 19th & Walnut Streets, directly across the street from Rittenhouse Square. Garden hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 am to 2 pm; Thursday evenings, 5 to 7; and the second Saturday of each month, 9 am to 1 pm. You can visit the Garden through October 2012.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Fight Dire With Fire

June 23, 2012

“What is eating my plants?” is a familiar lament for gardeners everywhere.

In leafy urban Philadelphia enclaves like Chestnut Hill and Roxborough, bordering the lesser-tamed sections of Fairmount Park, deer are a major nuisance. In West Philly, it’s squirrels possessed with a pathological need to dig, dig, dig newly planted flowers and young vegetable plants out of pots and garden beds. Bird feeder stations are also popular targets.

Fortunately, there are some non-toxic remedies and the best ones involve hot peppers.

Hot pepper sprays such as Mace®, formulated with oleoresin capsicum, the hot stuff in hot peppers, have been used for years as non-lethal defense weapons. While hot pepper sprays might not be lethal they can be powerful irritants and the oils from peppers can cause burns to the skin and eyes.

Birds are completely unaffected by the hottest of hot peppers because they lack the genetic neurons that trigger any reaction to the  capsaicinoids in chiles. Many mammals, however, are not so gifted. Growing chiles to protect farm crops in Africa and India has proved to be more effective than electronic fences, traps and noise machines. Plus, the resourceful farmer gets to harvest a lucrative secondary crop of fresh chiles.

For birders, many garden centers offer hot pepper suet balls and bird feed laced with hot pepper seeds. Other garden blogs recommend hot pepper sprays that can be appliedHot Pepper wild bird Suet Cake - Hot Pepper - 12 Ounce to the leaves and soil of garden plants. Not sure how effective these tactics are against bugs, but they sure repel critters. Commercial pepper sprays and powders are also available from garden centers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency considers capsaicin a biochemical pesticide, since it’s a naturally occurring compound that acts as a repellant, yet does not harm pests that come into contact with it. Interestingly, the EPA cautions against using high concentrations of capsaicin near waterways or koi ponds since its effect on aquatic life has never been studied.

It’s very easy to make your own pepper spray. Be as careful using your homemade product as you would with Mace® or commercial garden sprays. Use gloves and goggles when applying the sprays to your garden plants. After heavy watering or rains, you will most likely need to reapply the pepper spray.

Now, what to do if “something” is eating your pepper plants!  There are at least 35 types of insects and mites that attack pepper plants.

If you don’t want to use chemicals of any kind, caterpillars can be picked off and a mild non-ammonia soap solution works on getting rid of many other insect infestations. For a last bit of protection, try some hot pepper spray on your hot peppers.

Here’s a recipe for hot pepper spray from Green Living, provided by University of Florida Extension: Home Remedies for Insect and Disease Control on Plants:

“Soak 2 tablespoons ground red pepper overnight in a gallon of water. Add 6 drops of dish soap – a natural vegetable-based soap like castile soap, not an anti-bacterial soap – and place the mixture in a spray bottle.

To make pepper spray using fresh peppers, chop one half pound hot peppers and soak overnight in a gallon of water. Add 6 drops of dish soap and put the mixture in a spray bottle. Thoroughly spray the plants, wearing goggles and gloves.”

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Portia’s Peppers

May 31, 2012

Get in the conversation. A new on-line forum, FacePlant, is social media for gardeners says its founder, Louisa. “I started this site because I love growing stuff, documenting my efforts, and reading about and exploring other people’s gardens.”  Photo courtesy of FacePlant.

Above: Peppers growing gangbusters at a community garden.


Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

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