It is amazing that green, yellow and red peppers all come from the same plant – the colour of the fruit depends on the level of its maturity. If you want green fruit, pick early – the peppers will have a slightly bitter, rather than sweet, flavour. Yellow and orange peppers are more mature, with a fruity taste. If you want red peppers, be more patient and leave them on the plant for longer. Red bell peppers have a much richer, sweet taste.
Bell peppers are in the same Solanaceae family as vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants. Although readily available at green grocers all year, the seed of homegrown bell peppers is sown from August to December, to ensure a good harvest of fruit before winter arrives. Peppers, as well as chillies, are slow-growing crops, but you needn’t worry if you have forgotten to sow them in time, as both are sold as seedlings at most nurseries during summer.
An acquired taste:
It is difficult to describe the taste of a freshly harvested green pepper. It is juicy, with a crunchy texture in your mouth and a taste like the smell of freshly mown grass. Wine fundis often detect “a hint of green pepper” in certain wines (which should give you an indication that this is a subtle fruit). Bell peppers are a major ingredient in fresh summer salads, and can always be relied on to add lovely colour too. But when more mature and cooked, natural sugars seem to be released, turning peppers into a culinary delight. Bell peppers are great if stuffed with beef, rice, onion, tomato, smothered with cheese, and baked until soft. Sliced or diced, they can be used in pasta sauces, salsas or in stir-fries. Or you can take the humble pepper to new heights of flavour by simply roasting it until its skin is charred, after which it can be used as a side dish with roast meat or cold meats and cheeses.
How to roast sweet peppers:
- Line a roasting pan with tin foil or wax paper and place a selection of whole, different-coloured peppers on it.
- Set the oven to 200°C and roast the peppers for about 20 minutes
- Turn them around after about 10 minutes – their outer skins will become black and charred, but this is the intention!
- When soft, remove from the oven and cover with a length of foil – allow them to stand and steam for about 20 minutes
- Remove the blackened skin (it will come off easily!), the pips and stalk, and cut up into large slices, which will have a lovely, smokey flavour.
Note: The roasted bell peppers can be served immediately or drizzled with virgin olive oil and kept in a covered jar in the fridge for a few days.
Plant your peppers in friable, fertile soil that drains well. First enrich the soil with lots of compost and dig the ground over fairly deeply (to at least 40 cm deep) because peppers have quite extensive root systems.
Plant in full sun in a position sheltered from wind, so that the flowers are not blown off.
Container culture is fine, but use deep and wide pots. Use a mix of 50% potting soil and 50% palm peat, and add a slow-release fertiliser.
Watering is critical when the plants are germinating and also during flowering. If plants wilt, they drop their flowers, which means lost fruit.
Feed regularly with a liquid fertiliser until the plants start flowering, and then ease up.
Pick fruit continuously so that the plant produces more flowers and fruit.