- Author: Aleta Barrett
This summer I have been enjoying the bustle of harvest season on my farm and working in the afternoons at UCCE in the Small Farms Program. Thinking of what to write about for a blog I can't resist one of my favorite crops now in season, peppers. Sweet peppers are native to Mexico, Central America and South America. Christopher Columbus introduced peppers to Europe when he returned from the New World. I'm sure they were a hit for some of the same reasons I love them now. And I'm not the only one who loves them, in 2012 Bell Pepper use reached a new high of 11 pounds per capita in the United States. Sweet peppers with their crunchy, sugary flesh are irresistible. They come in bell shaped varieties and bull horn shapes, often called Italian roasting peppers. When I go out to our farm stand I often just grab one as a sweet snack, I've been pleased to catch my kids doing the same. Peppers are a beautiful thing. The transition as the peppers ripen from green to red, yellow or orange is such a variable display of color that photographers are asking me at every market if they may take pictures of the peppers. Some varieties even start out purple or white and then ripen through a rainbow of colors on their way to red. I have customers who purchase them to use as a gorgeous edible center piece instead of flowers. Besides being naturally photogenic they are fun to harvest. Walking out of the field with a full tub of peppers, they send up a sweet and savory smell in the summer heat. They are also a super food when it comes to nutrition. Almost one cup of raw red bell pepper has the following USDA daily values:
• 97% of Vitamin C
• 17% of Vitamin B
• 5.1% of Thiamine
• 4% of Potassium
Red peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as green peppers and also have the antioxidant lycopene. Green peppers do not contain lycopene so, eat up those red peppers and get your antioxidants!
And then there are hot peppers, commonly called Chili Peppers. They are also very high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A. They range from very mild Anaheim peppers used for stuffing all the way to notoriously hot varieties such as Bhut Jolokia (Ghost), Red Scorpian and Carolina Reaper peppers. The heat is found throughout the pepper but most highly concentrated in the seeds and ribs. Many recipes call to have those parts removed before using the pepper. Handle with care and consider wearing rubber gloves when working with hot peppers as the oils can linger on your hands and sting intensely when rubbed on lips or in an eye. The plants have the same delightfully silky leaves, the same toughness, beauty and colorful array as sweet peppers. Chili peppers can be small and tedious but worth the extra time to harvest.
You can find locally grown peppers in Nevada County at the Nevada City Farmers Market, The Nevada County Certified Growers' Market, The Briar Patch and in Placer County at Foothill Farmers Markets, Sierra Fresh Farmers Markets, Newcastle Produce and other local grocery stores. Regardless of whether you like hot or sweet peppers, now is a great time of the year to find them fresh and locally grown, so enjoy while the season is ripe for peppers.