Monday, May 9, 2016

Celebrating the 2016 Herb of the Year, Capsicum! Well Almost!

My Favorite Pepper Mill from Penzey's!
It has pepper in its name, but it isn't quite what is being celebrated.  A couple of readers have asked about growing peppercorns, one who lives in Florida and one who lives in Vermont.  And silly me thought it was perfect because the 2016 Herb of the Year is pepper.  Well, not really pepper.  It is capsicum, the true pepper.

Pepper was prominent in the ancient world and was a source of fabulous wealth during the medieval and colonial spice trade.  Pepper provided the pungency of Indian food until it was partially replaced by chilli peppers from the New World.  It remains the most important and popular of all spices in overall value and trade volume.  Peppercorns are from the genus Piper which has a very large number of species, but only P. nigrum has any importance as a spice.  Black pepper is native to the Indian equatorial and tropical forest regions, especially along the Malabar Coast (South India).  Besides India, it is cultivated in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and China.

The plant is a climber, with stems that have green oval to heart-shaped leaves, 3 to 7 inches long and adventitious (meaning they are formed accidentally) roots anchoring it to the ground.  It has inconspicuous flowers.  The fruit or peppercorn is a berry like drupe about 3/16 inches in diameter.  They are green when they are unripe and then red.  Plants are propagated from seed or cuttings.  The developing seedlings need to be staked and are kept low so that growth is horizontal.  In their native lands they can grow to 20 feet.

Production begins 5 years after planting.  The spikes of fruit are harvested before they mature so as not to lose the fruits.  The spice that is obtained from the fruits is made up of black, white and green pepper.  Black pepper comes from whole fruits picked just before they are completely ripe and are briefly cooked.  White pepper from ripe fruit with the endocarp (the inner most membrane surrounding a seed in the fruit) of the pulp separated from fermentation.  Green pepper are made by pickling the unripe fruit to keep them from darkening.

Ground pepper quickly loses its aroma, so that ideally it is stored whole.  The spice has stimulant, digestive and eupeptic (good digestion) qualities.  Black pepper is used in practically all savory dishes and even in sweet ones.  When I was at the Spice Festival at Kew Gardens last fall, a chef combined strawberries with black pepper.  They were delicious.  Because I am into jam and jelly making, here is a  strawberry and black pepper jam recipe! May have to substitute raspberries instead!

The pungent principle is piperine (only 1% as hot as capsaicin from chili peppers).  White pepper is more pungent and has musty flavors resulting from the fermentation process.  The peppery aroma is due to rotundone, a compound also found in Shiraz wine.

So the real question is can Florida or Vermont grow peppercorns?  My guess is that Florida has a better chance than Vermont just by location.  I did find a post from my friend, Jim Long's blog about growing peppercorns from plants he purchased in Florida!  It is called Growing Black Pepper.  Hopefully his tips will be helpful to Linda in Florida.  I would just say to my Vermont reader, Bev, buy the best quality peppercorns and use a pepper grinder to get the best flavor.  I would also mention buying in bulk is not always the best way to buy spices.  Even though it may be more expensive, the spices will be used up in a timely fashion.  If you have a favorite spice company, please share it.  I buy a lot of spices from Penzeys Spices.  Hope you are having a great day wherever you may be.  A gloomy day here in the 'Burgh.  Talk to you later.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Forgot I Was Supposed to Start Blogging!

Finished Cross Stitch for The Herbal Husband
Front Facade with New Windows!
Two Windows in the Front of the Living Room!
Two Back Windows in the Living Room!
And The View Out of the Back Window of the Living Room!
Sorry I have been very preoccupied with this windows project.  We started in February with the waterfall in the front living room window and we just finished last Friday getting the living room and dining room windows replaced!  We have moved our collections around four times!  I had forgotten what true exhaustion feels like!  We are slowly getting boxes unpacked and I was hoping to move things around a bit!  The Herbal Husband wants it just like it was!  After 27 years of living here, we had/have a lot of stuff!  My house has never been this clean!  Even when we moved in.  I guess that is a good thing!  A couple of readers have asked about growing peppercorns and I am still going to do that post. Hopefully this week.  Oh, and that top photo is of the finished framed cross-stitch to celebrate the 24th year of The Herbal Husband's becoming a US citizen!

Also I had a request from a reader who owns an herb farm in Connecticut to highlight her business.  So here you go Pat Bramley who owns Buck Mountain Herbs.  Hopefully some day I will get up to see her operations.  She had seen my lists that I did for Mother Earth Living and wanted to be added.  If there are others who would like a mention here, I would be glad to do it!  I just can't add your business to the list on Mother Earth Living!  It has been a beautiful day here in the 'Burgh! We have been indoors unpacking!  Hope you have enjoyed the day wherever you may be!  Talk to you later this week!