Christmas chilli

by Adam Pasco

While I can't promise you a white Christmas, I'm certainly having a 'chilli' time in my greenhouse. And what fabulous pickings I've been enjoying...

While I can't promise you a white Christmas, I'm certainly having a 'chilli' time in my greenhouse. And what fabulous pickings I've been enjoying from my crops for the past three months, with Chilli 'Cayennetta' and others continuing to supply bright red fruits that would put Rudolph's red nose in the shade.

'Cayennetta' is a British-bred variety forming well-branched plants that stay reasonably compact, making it perfect for growing in large pots. As crops develop the plants can get quite top-heavy, so I'd always recommend pushing several long split canes into the compost and tying stems to them for support. But with that said, these chillies are easy for growing on greenhouse staging, conservatories or even wide sunny windowsills.

My festive dilemma is that I can't think of a way to integrate this home-grown ingredient into our traditional Christmas dinner. Yes, it has to be turkey, of course, and to get the timing just right I carefully follow the advice set down in my well-worn copy of 'Delia Smith's Christmas'. You can't go wrong with Delia.

None of the Christmas recipe books I've looked at feature chilli at all, so perhaps I'll be able to create something with the leftover turkey instead. And here I'll probably look to my Thai recipe books for inspiration. Turkey instead of chicken in a Thai green curry, perhaps. Any other thoughts, anyone?

While 'Cayennetta' is tasty but lacking punch, another chilli I'm also picking now is a little marvel. Called 'Chenzo', it forms a smaller chilli, but with much more heat. I popped a handful of whole ones into a curry the other day so they'd stay intact without permeating their heat into the whole dish. Then the family could choose whether to eat them or not. Biting into them, the burst of heat was almost overwhelming - as you'd expect from chillies, the experience was pleasurably painful!

While all other summer greenhouse crops have come to an end - tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, aubergines – it's great still having some produce to enjoy at Christmas. But once the final chillies have been picked I'm hoping that won't be the end of them.

I've read how people often save chilli plants from one year to the next, so this year I'm not going to dispose of my plants. Instead I'm going to trim a couple of them back and keep them on a bright windowsill indoors until spring. As my greenhouse is unheated I'm sure they wouldn't survive there, but a frost-free position indoors should suit them. I'm told these plants will develop and flower far sooner than plants sown next spring, so I'm looking forward to earlier pickings, perhaps next July or August.

For now, all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. And if you do over-indulge there's always the digging to complete to burn off a few calories. Have fun!

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Talkback: Christmas chilli
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Adam Pasco 25/12/2013 at 20:22

I've just found a recipe for Brussels sprouts with chilli, garlic and lemon. Has anyone tried it?

Danny31 06/02/2014 at 17:10

I think you could make a great cranberry and chilli relish/sauce. Or simply add Mexican-style spices to your roasties. Turkey originates from the Americas, after all. I wonder if a chilli chocolate sauce would work with ice cream - or even Xmas pud?

At Wisley I saw they had chillies hung up as decorations. You could mix them with the mistletoe for some hot smooching!