Thursday, 28 June 2012

Having the best seeds from you chillies, buy tea!

No worries, this will make sense to you later.

I have been growing chillies for some years now, and I do love them.

I have gotten some great and special seeds from friends all over the world, and I do like that sharing thing. I cherish those special sorts so much that I would love to have them next year as well. Maybe I can share some of them back to others, give a friend some seeds I got from another friend.

Now in order to do that, I need, really need those seeds to be 100% the way they were. They need to be pure and not mixed with other varieties.
Sure it is fun to have an odd and unexpected variant, but I really more prefer to be able to say that in 10 years I still have the greatest chillies from friends all over the world. Not talking about the few I bought to taste, and gotten approved to be part of the family here, but I should take those in consideration as well.

Hmm, I should work on those intro’s getting them shorter. Or shouldn’t I?

The chilli plant has flowers but still is self pollinating most of the time, with exception to 1 wild sort. Still if a bee can get to it, it might cross pollinate. Some of the sorts even pollinate before the flower is open, but one never can be sure. One better should be safe not sorry, so I will talk you through some methods.

Isolation is the thing, so in one way or the other you need to isolate the plant or its flowers, from animals that can pollinate them. Now the most simple and obvious way would be to put them at a place where they cannot be pollinated. I do that with plants at times, just putting them in the house until they start forming fruits. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work all that well, due to the difference of humidity in and outside. Last winter I placed a Cheongyang Gochu ( Korean hot chili ) in the house, and when it started forming flowers, it started dropping them at the same time. This kept on going, until I placed a bowl of water just under the plant on the heater. That sorted things, and the plant was full of fruit ripening a month later. So, it was a good idea, but I’d rather do it in summer, when you might have more success. You can even help the plant if it in indoors with giving it a little shake every day, or pollinate the flowers with a small soft paintbrush.
Image kindly provided by wildchilli

If you have an allotment, and a good amount of space, isolation can also be done with distance. The distance for chilli plants to be isolated is 9 meters. Now sometimes you can put another sort right next to it, but do check if they can cross pollinate. I have Rocoto chillies next to my Cheongyang chillies, no problem as the Capsicum Pubescens ( Rocoto ) does not cross with Capsicum Frutescens.

Image made by me
Now if you only want some seeds, for coming year, I urge you to buy tea. So now we are back at tea again? Yes we are, as teabags are amongst the finest solutions to just isolate one flower. Just put a teabag over a flower that has not opened yet, and leave it there until the fruit starts to form. Weird thing is, if you buy those pyramid bags, the cheapest version often is better than the more expensive ones. So artificial aroma’s in tea or not, chuck the tea away after you have cut a tiny slid that will fit the flower bud, and put it over the flower. An average chilli fruit has more than 10 seeds sometimes they have up to 70 seeds or more. These pyramid tea bags are made from plastics, so they will last forever and can be used for the same plant over and over again, after the fruit is forming take it off and put it on another flower bud, but do not forget to mark the flower with a piece of wire or a freezer bag clip! 
Image made by me
Some reform shops have empty teabags for sale, in Holland 100 teabags for just 1.5 Euro. Those are paper bags though, so can’t stand rain for too long.

Image kindly provided by Bountiful Seeds
If you want to isolate a branch or more than one flower, the organza bag might be an idea. I know in France bags are available for isolating flowers, but I have not seen them in other countries yet. I know that Bountiful Seeds in France use them for the best result of isolating branches with flowers. As I haven’t seen any of them here I will use organza bags, they are cheap and ready to use and available up to the size of a sleeve. If you can’t get them or rather make them yourself, get busy with a sewing machine and some tulle netting which is the same. 

One other method I heard form is to get the petals stuck from the flower with wood glue so it doesn't open up. The flower will self pollinate without opening, and when the fruit starts forming the chilli will chillies crack the glue, come out and grow. 

I know some seeds companies also have another way. They have compartments in their greenhouses, which just have 1 sort in them; this however takes a lot of space. Fine if you want to do just a few sorts, but with me it will not work. I am not a professional grower with loads of space, even though I have 105 sorts growing now. So I will keep to teabags and tulle netting.

And you? Off you go to get some tea, and chuck the tea again, just use the teabags !
Here is the next post, how to get and keep your seeds and save them fro a long time!

Yours sincerely,

Bart J. Meijer

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Are you a wimp for not eating superhot chillies?

Well, that is a question I do hear other people ask at times.
And I would actually say it is not a bad one either.
Now sure, my friends that like the superhot chillies will think I am a bit of a sissy not to eat them, but who cares?
In fact I really feel ashamed at times if I say I like medium hot chillies if I am in a group that only eats the freaking hot ones. But then again I think I should not be feeling embarrassed.
So here I go, coming out of the closet; I like medium hot chillies!
Even worse, I like mild chillies !

That said, I feel comfortable to talk about the rest of the chillies too.
Really I got a comment on a recipe, if I could spice it up by 10 steps, sure I can. Not that I would eat it though, but I can. I really thought, take the same recipe and use a hotter chilli, one that you like yourself! I think I said so to, getting nothing in reply. Now that is, in my mind a bit of the problem, the issue so to say why people do not eat chillies. Really of all the people I know, if I ask them if they would like to try a certain chilli, the answer is?? No thanks, I do like a bit of spice but I don’t want to go overboard. So than I find myself in a place where I should be defending chillies and am telling about tasty juicy chillies that are not over the top.
I have about 400 plants here, 110 varieties, and only 35 varieties are what I call over the edge.
In other words, I have 75 sorts that are mild to hot, but not over the top. So the vast majority is what “normal” people can eat. Does that say enough?

I asked a rather big sauce maker how he felt about this article, and he said:
to be perfectly honest, I'm very much the same way. I like a few superhots for their flavour but prefer milder chillies overall for everyday use. I think a lot of it is just a big macho thing!
He would like his comment to be anonymous.

Another friend Karen Willmott, she makes lovely chutneys amongst other products, was unsuccessful at a contest, not on taste she was told but because her products were not hot enough.
She says: When you point out that there are mild chillies say like the jalapeño and a jalapeño popper is most delicious and not hot either, they are surprised and change their views on chillies as a whole. The 'hot heads' will always push for hotter and hotter sauces but I sincerely believe that there is also a great market for milder sauces too!

Does that say enough?
Well looking at some sauces that I have seen, it might not be enough. I have seen crazy sauces, with good taste really, that are over the top for most people. Not that this is bad, but not all sauce makers have a milder variant to their great sauces. Now that is odd don’t you think? Well as the majority reading this, are real hotheads, it might be seen as normal. I however doubt that it is, for several reasons.

If I ask 100 people to try one of my chillies, about 5 say that they would like to. Now that is excluding my hothead friends, so I mean the regular guy that I meet on the street or see at the school for my kids, or even my family. So most people do not want to try my chillies. If I ask people that come here and eat with us to try a hot sauce, most of them say no too.
So only 5 out of 100 people like to try and taste my chillies and my sauces or sambals, for one simple reason; it might be too hot !.
Now I have got both screaming hot sauces as well as mild ones, and I do use both without any hesitation, and people that eat with us never complain about food being too hot. They have no choice as to eat the food, or they will get a dry piece of bread with water.
I just try not to use too much, and serve food that is hot, but not over the hill. And believe me, people like to eat with us, and got no complaints.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I do like to spice things up, and sometimes food just could have been hotter. Then again I don’t want to spoil food, or my taste. I do use superhots, not for being superhot, but for taste. I have once asked a great group on facebook that has loads of hotheads to tell me what the best tasting chillies were, keeping the heat out of the equation. Or rather I asked what chilli would match taste for heat, and all of those I am growing now, hoping to taste them weather the have an SHU of 50.000 or 2.000.000. If I like one that is superhot, I will just use less.
I do have to tell I had to stop eating hot food for medical reasons, for over 7 years, to be able to cope with spicy food again. This medical problem was caused by eating too hot every day for too long, and drinking loads of tomato juice with Tabasco.

Getting back to crazy hot sauces, and extremely hot chillies, I don’t discard any of them, I only do if they taste bad. Same as for mild chillies or sauces, I was soo looking out for tasting the Satan's Kiss, a heirloom Italian cherry chilli, and it tasted like hot water only. Disappointed, I never grew it again. I tasted a Dilita sauce, Peri Peri Hot Sauce and it was great really. Then I had a milder version, really the same but milder, and the balance was soooo off I tossed it in the bin, the citrus was totally overpowering the whole of it.
Now that is weird ! Why would a sauce maker, not make a good milder sauce?
I don’t get that, I don’t get that at all!

There is more that I don’t get. Those bottles with devils and blood on it, or graves and blood are funny for the hardcore superhot chilli eater, sure. But the average Bob will only try that to show off how tough he is, so it is only a macho thing. Nothing to do with taste, just being macho, and only a few will buy it again for its taste, or use very little.
If I let these 5 people out of 100 I asked taste a superhot, not one will ever taste one of my chillies again. So is going overboard with superhots or superhot sauces killing the business? I think it is not, however it is cramping down the market. So do the bottles with devils and what not on it, that I’d rather not put on the table in front of my kids without explaining.

Ultimately I think, when I am yet again explaining to someone that there are great chillies that are not too hot, that superhots and crazy hot sauces keep the market small for people rather not have it too hot. The majority of people that is, so how to go about it?
Sure, now I might be seen as a wimp, but I do not dismiss any sauce or chilli, and would feel great if others don’t do that too. Plus, if the milder chillies and the milder sauces that are good, would get some attention too, one would create a bigger market for sure. Now are sauce makers in it for the money? Not only, but if they would love a bigger market, maybe they should try milder sauces too, and promote these for the average Bob. Sure, that will make the world just a tiny bit more hot, but if you take one step at the time. . . . .

So next time, I hope not to have to explain, that there are chillies with great taste, both mild and superhot!

Yours sincerely

Bart J. Meijer

Photos courtesy Matthieu Le Gal of Fire Chillies France

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Tea, and stuff called tea, a rant about tastes.

I think about some 20 years ago I got acquainted to Tea.
I write Tea with a capital T as it was an eye opener for me.
Sure I did drink tea before, or stuff supposed to be tea but more likely stuff wiped from a warehouse floor. I don’t want to offend anyone but the tea we drank at home was rather boring and dull, and smelled ancient. So one time a friend brought me some tea from the UK, and I was sold.
It was Earl Gray from Fortnum & Mason in some silly but good looking tin, in the form of a book. 'The story about tea' the book/tin was called. Good grief, that tea was vibrant with an extract of bergamot oil and tasted like some expert had just made the blend and poured it in my teapot about 5 minutes ago. I was stunned, to think I was teased by something as silly as a tin looking like an old book?

This tea made me go out and shop for more. I have to say I found both bad, and really good tea’s. I felt very odd and dumb when that friend brought me another gorgeous tin of superb tea from Fortnum & Mason in London and told me even the Queen of England shops there. Good grief, I was shocked when I heard the price of this tin some time later from a friend from the UK.
One other tea company that really blew me away was the Kwong Sang tea corporation from Hong Kong. The most boring Chinese 'tourist like' tins you can ever imagine. Similar to tins that you would like to show off in the seventies. But the tea, good grief, was all about culture. I have tasted at least 15 of their blends, and even one with Jasmine flowers. It really is a great tea, which will also help you out a lot when you have eaten that tiny bit too much.

Now I don’t know why I have stopped drinking tea for a while? I guess just as I wasn’t giving myself the time to really enjoy it I think. So if I am in a rush, I’d rather make a quick cup of coffee. That said, I have missed the times enjoying a good cup of tea, but that is life, isn’t it? Having kids and being busy, doing household chores combined with working and trying to have some time for a hobby doesn’t really leave you much time. I don’t feel sorry for myself; I have great kids and a nice home and all. Seems to be daft and all, but I just did not want to, or give myself the time to enjoy a good cup of tea.

Now all of the sudden my wife tells me she wants to drink more tea, so I was elated to say the least. Lovely, do you know the Chinese tea rituals? I began picturing them, with the tranquillity that accompanies them. Ah dreaming off, I just was looking forward to taking some time once in a while. I seem to be running around a lot lately. So I started to shop for tea, getting some nice ones both Chinese and English and made a good cup of tea just before the missus arrived back home. She liked it and all, but after a few tastes she asked; Have you got something with fruit next time? Blueberry tea, that is tea with blueberry taste, I like that . . . . .
I do know a herbal remedy with blueberry leaves, but tea with a blueberry taste??

Is baffled the right word? Stunned? Disgusted?
Tea with blossom, like the Chinese do, I can get that and that is still tea to me. Tea with a few drops of lemon juice, yes I can get that also. Faking it with lemon zest I don’t as I 'DO' taste the difference.
Still I can sort of get that as it is a lazy way of almost having the same. But tea with fruit ??
I thought tea was about leaves, growing on the hills of Ceylon, being picked at just the right moment? Or Korean green tea, made from tea leaves, which are still green. Fermented leaves, tea leaves mined, that I can get too and I know that tastes good. Have you ever sat next to someone drinking that kind of stuff with forest fruits?? That smells like my compost bin, a week after I have made some good juice or syrup for the kids. Ever wonder what it would be like to kiss someone that just had a sip of that compost tea?
Worse even are those fruit teas that contain aroma’s and no real fruit, all you get is a tea that has been sitting next to a bag of fruit, if at all. ( am I using the word tea for this stuff?? ) 
For my wife I tried a few and they were bloody awful, I love tea, but not an infusion between a candy store and a compost bin!

So trying to find common ground we tried some herbal infusions, some people call that tea even though it is usually not made from the leaves of the tea bush. I am sorry, but we failed in that too. So I drink coffee, and when I need a break, I drink real tea from tea leaves.

I do still buy tea for my wife, I just don’t buy melon or forestfruit infusion or whatever the word is.
Doing that it struck me really, that the prices are out of this world with those tea bags. Now you even have those pyramid tea bags, where tea can float around more in the water, and you have a lot less tea per package for more money. Now 20 teabags for 2,99, and for that money I cannot even feed the leftovers to my worms as the bags are from plastic. AARGH !!

So, please help me out here!
I get the best loose Jasmine tea 250 grams for 5 Euro, from the Kwong Sang Tea corporation. Put a good spoonful of tea leaves with a bit of flower blossom in a pot and you have about 4 cups of great tea, that smells like perfume from a good looking Asian stewardess from Asian Airlines. So that tin will make you the best 100 pots of tea, from free floating leaves that are super happy for 5 Euro.
So !
Why on earth would I buy tea containing the leftovers from making fruit juice, in plastic pyramid bags that even the worms can not digest, 2.99 Euro for 20 cups????

I’ll get my coat,
rant over !

Yours truly,

Bart J. Meijer

Friday, 15 June 2012

Recipe; Smoked chicken sandwich with homemade garlic mayonnaise with peppermint!

Today we are making a lovely sandwich full of surprises.
Not your regular smoked chicken sandwich, but one with a few surprises.
I tried it and it all has a great balance, and a nice bite to it.

First, I think you really need to make your own mayonnaise, it is not at all difficult!
Regular bought out of the shop mayonnaise often tastes too artificial having refined sugar in it or even sweeteners. This shop mayonnaise really puts me off, making loads of dishes taste like cra#.
Next to the normal lemon juice I add a touch of balsamic, and to the normal oil I add some Extra Vierge olive oil. I don’t make from olive oil, as that tends to give a rather bitter mayonnaise spoiling the taste of food. A slight bitter is what I am looking for, so I only add a little.
These extra’s make a mayonnaise with a perfect balance between sweet and sour, salt and bitter.
So I tend to make the stuff myself, which takes me about 10 to 15 minutes, so give it a go.

For the recipe you need bake off baguettes, of even better to make bread yourself, depending on how much time you have.
Other than bread and 2 smoked chicken breasts you need this:
2 egg yolks
peanut oil, sunflower oil or any other neutral oil
extra vierge olive oil
lemon juice
balsamic vinegar
a teaspoon good mustard
half a teaspoon of honey
some super fresh garlic
2 peppermint leaves
some salt
some fresh ground pepper
some sweet paprika powder
A nice and sharp chilli
All the ingredients need to have room temperature!!!!!

The hard part of making sauce mayonnaise is the making of the emulsion, in other words making a smooth mix. It has to do with the first adding of the first drops of oil, that needs to be done slow in the start. It might be handy to ask someone to help once you start adding the oil.
Put 2 egg yolks in a bowl, add some salt and some fresh ground pepper, white if possible for the looks.
Give it a whisk so that all is nicely mixed, adding a teaspoon good mustard, and adding half a teaspoon of honey. 
When it is nicely mixed add a small tablespoon with lemon juice and a few drops off balsamic, and again give it a whisk.

Now comes the part to add the oils, and that has to be done taking good care not to add too much in the start. Someone can help you now, adding the oil.
Start whisking the mixture, adding slowly drop after drop of oil, once you see the colour getting lighter or more yellow, you can add the oil faster. Do not stop whisking adding a splash, keep on whisking while adding oil. If you have the idea that it is stiffening a bit, add a good spoonful of olive oil. At this point you should taste the mayonnaise; it should be creamy and have the right balance between spice and salt, sweet and sour. The olive oil should have given it a very light bitter,
If it isn’t creamy enough keep adding some oil until you think it is about right. As for the honey, you should barely notice it giving it just a touch of sweetness and not overrule! If you think there is not enough honey, just add the tiniest bit while whisking it.
So, now what?
Well we were about to make a garlic mayonnaise so, you need some lovely fresh garlic, super fine sliced and chopped. Please do not smash squash press or whatever the garlic as it spoils the taste!
Mix it in giving it a whisk or a stir.
Now from my friends in the UK I learned to use peppermint, and that was something I was missing out off before. That really lightens the garlic and gives a nice surprise.
To keep it as a surprise in the mayonnaise, you need to cut it with a very sharp knife in small pieces. Don’t bruise or roll the leave before cutting as it will start releasing the natural oils and this time we don’t want that! Stir the cut leaves in the mayonnaise very carefully.
The thing you want to have later, that people don’t right off taste the peppermint, until the chew on a piece of leave, that is the surprise here.

Ok, bake off some baguettes or make bread. While baking it off slice the smoked chicken breast in thin slices.
I smoked the chicken breasts myself, if you want to know how, just ask!
As soon as the bread or the baguette is done, cut it lengthwise and cover one half with cheese having it melt a bit, and put a layer of lettuce on the cheese. Put the chicken breast slices on top. Then add some mayonnaise over the chicken breasts, not too much as the taste will be rather strong and you are looking for the right balance.

Sprinkle some sweet paprika (bell pepper) powder on the mayonnaise for adding some extra sweet tones, then sprinkle fine sliced chilli over it all and serve with the top half on!
Now while people taste this they will have 2 surprises. You will not notice the peppermint and the chilli with the first bite. They will only notice the chilli and the peppermint while chewing, and guys, that is ever so lovely !!
 The bread and the chicken are very light, so that is good. The mayonnaise made like this has about approximately 700 calories per 100 grams of product. This makes mayonnaise a very highly caloric food by itself, then again you only add about 15 gram to one baguette, so that is not half bad. The chilli can raise your metabolic rate by up to 23% for about 3 hours, lowers your blood sugars and even thins your blood. So don’t worry and do enjoy !!

Yours truly,

Bart J. Meijer

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Growing chillies, from nothing to now

Growing chillies, simple or complicated?

I think growing chillies is not at all complicated, if you keep to some simple rules.
Sure as a real expert, I want you to believe it is all so difficult, that you really don’t want to grow them.
Buy your chillies with me, and you will have the best.

This is how it used to be, really, for instance:
The chilli was introduced in Korea by the Japanese, in the 17th century, where the Japanese held monopoly on “Japanese mustard” as Portuguese missionaries called it.
The Japanese told not only the Korean but the Chinese, Vietnamese and more, that chillies won’t grow in other climates, keeping the Japanese pepper for themselves. In the mean time they earned loads of money.

Well, even the Finnish have chillies growing now, so why won’t you?

The only tricky part about growing chillies is germination.

Now everybody has got wild stories, or less wild stories about germination and how it should be done.
Some do the first stage, growing its first root, in wet paper tissues or wet cotton wool or ziplock bags, and then transfer them seeds to soil. I have even heard people using germination powders and fluids that will cost you the world. The only thing I do is soak them in water fro 24 hours, and if they are looking a bit tatty or dirty, I soak them in weak chamomile tea.
But really all you need are good fresh seeds, and some patience.
If you want to grow chillies, you need to be early with getting seeds and doing the seeding.
As I said soaking in water I sometimes do, but I do tend to forget at times, and did see no change.
I normally start in end of December and start January, putting the seeds in little takeaway boxes with some soil in it. Some little holes in the covers to have them have some ventilation, but not too much so they won’t dry out too fast. At this point they really don’t need any light, so I have them on top of my computer, which is always running. This will keep them at a snug temperature of 27 Celsius.

Some people germinate the seeds in root riot cubes, party cups with seeding soil or in propagators. Depending on the space you have, and the amount of plants you want to have, you can take whatever fits you the best.
I will get into this later, at the time you need to start seeding.
Then the waiting game starts, waiting for them to pop up, and show their seed lobes.
If they are all up, or the majority is up, I make the soil a bit wetter, and transplant them to home made root riot cubes. Some say that is too early, but it seems to work just fine with me, so I’ll keep to doing that. 
Here is the potpress, it is about 40 odd years old, and works like a charm. Bought it for 20 Euro at Ebay.
At this stage they don’t really need to be that warm, but they do need sun; otherwise they will get long and thin, so it is better to keep them cooler.
3 weeks later, they will look like this
Coming season I will explain all at the time when it is needed. Just trying to get you up to speed with what I have done and where I am now.

Potting soil, now that is a different matter. At least that is what a load of people say, and I have a few small tips for you on this point. I have used potting soil from 2 Euro per 40 Litre, up to stuff from 10 Euro per 40 Litre, seeing no difference whatsoever in short or long term. There are a few things to make it better though. You can use dried cow dun pellets, or a little horse manure in the bottom of the pots. Potting soil however seems to have enough feed for the chilli plants, though one can never be sure, so I give them some horse manure. If you take a look at Going green 1 and Going green 2 you see a lot of tips. One of them is very handy, and that is to use worm compost due to various reasons. The most important one being that plants growing in a soil mix with worm compost seems to have little or no problems with aphids and other creepy crawly things. I heard in Sussex all growers use worm compost to keep aphids away. And it works, like a charm. If I forget to add it to the soil, that are the plants that do get aphids. Not much harm as I make my own spray to kill the life ones, and to repel the flying ones that want to lay eggs. Another trick is to put some banana peel in the top soil, to keep aphids away. A spoon full of shredded peel will do per plant, and the worms love to eat it, if they are still in the worm compost. If you add another spoon full of shredded banana peel every other month they will be ok all year. The peel contains Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus and Zinc, which are a great feed for chilli plants, so the plant has all it needs. An other tip; add coffee grounds to the soil, they are a source for Nitrogen and great worm feed.

So, now we are at growing and getting the best out of your plants
Here for comparison,  left with press pots home made from potting soil and 15% worm compost, at the right I used only pure potting soil. Big difference isn't it?.

We had the soil, the aphids and the germination and getting them out of the germination trays, or takeaway boxes and so on.
So it is time to pot them on in?
In the Netherlands the call the stuff potting soil, in some countries they call it compost, and I mix it up with 10-15% worm compost. After the seeds have “hatched” you can put them in pots, press pots or root riot cubes.
The can stay there from 6-8 weeks, in the press pots and root riot cubes, until you see roots are forming out of them. That is when you need to pot them on. If you use pots, as soon as you see good roots coming out of the pots, they need bigger ones. I mostly do it step by step, from cubes to 9 Cm pots, from 9 cm to 2 litre or right on to 5,5-7,5 litre. Depending on the sort they need 5,5 litre to 7,5 litre for 1 year, look at description of the variety you have on the net to how big they get.
Here my plants are now about a foot high, some are even bigger!
Good grief, I am at 1100 some words !
Next time I will tell you about the birds and the bees, the flowers and the fruits !

Yours truly

Bart J. Meijer