It has not been a brilliant year for chillis, but we have had some success and have managed to grow three varieties which are now ready for their final harvest. This year I am also going to try overwintering a couple of plants to see whether that will give us more chillies and earlier in the summer.
I plant chilli seeds in February. They are extremely slow to germinate and develop, so we never have any ripe fruit until August/September. This year has been worse than usual with some chilli plants still not showing fully ripe fruit. I am told that if you bring pot grown chillis indoors in the autumn and keep them fairly dry over winter (their leaves are likely to fall off) then they spring to life as the weather warms up and will crop much earlier. I will give it a go and let you know what happens.
Meanwhile, we have had success with Hungarian Hot Wax (my favourite), Hot Cayenne and Hot Shakira (although these chillis are still green). I have never grown Hot Shakira before. It is a relative of Jalapeno which is usually simple to grow and a real stalwart, however, this year my Jalapenos failed completely. Hungarian Hot Wax is not particularly hot. It is yellow (so is sometimes known as Hungarian Hot Banana), turning to orange and then red. This year we have had one orange chilli so far - and the rest are still yellow. You can stuff Hot Wax with goat's cheese and barbeque or griddle it. I often slice it and add it to tomato sauces or spiced - up salads. This year I have use Hot Cayenne - which is lively but not a firecracker - in my chilli jam (recipe at the end of the blog). The Hot Shakera remains to be experienced. I may have to pick and use them while green. I will put some in a paper bag and leave them in a cool place to see if they will ripen over time.
I harvest chillis when I consider them to be ripe and freeze them whole. There is no need to blanche or cook them, so you can just dip into the freezer bag, take one out and use it as and when you want to. I find they keep very well - so we have "fresh" chillies 12 months a year.
Here is my recipe for Chilli Jam; it is a re-work of Sarah Raven's recipe which has evolved to suit the ingredients I usually have to hand.
To make just under three small jars of jam:
500g very ripe red tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
4 large red chillis (leave the seeds in if you want really hot jam), sliced
A 6 -7 cm long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into small pieces
300g of sugar - I use golden "cassonade"
2 tbsps of Thai fish sauce
100ml of red wine vinegar
Briefly process the tomatoes, garlic, chillis and ginger in a food processor. You want the mixture to be textured rather than a puree.
Put the mixture into a saucepan and add the sugar, fish sauce and vinegar. Bring it all to the boil and simmer for around 30 - 40 minutes, stirring regularly. The mixture will reduce and become darker and slightly sticky in consistency.
Pour into sterilised jam jars and seal while still hot.
Store in the fridge when cold.
I find this will keep for up to about 6 months in the fridge.