Opinion... Pepper breeders' wealth of knowledge

Peter Seabrook looks forward to garden centre pepper-tasting weekends.

There is nothing to beat a face-to-face meeting. We may live in a paperless business world — although in The Sun offices we still have plenty of paper and printers in use — and have electronic messaging, although you never really know whether it has reached the addressee, but there is nothing to match communicating eye to eye.

I recently travelled up to Gourmet Genetics in Kellett Gate, Spalding, to see their pepper-breeding trials. What a wealth of knowledge, not just on peppers but tomatoes too, at the home of ‘Sweet Aperitif’, came from the proprietors Maggie Goodsell and Mark Rowland.

They were like sticks of rock with information on peppers running through their blood. My tastes are old-fashioned English and peppers thought of with little enthusiasm, beyond either several degrees of hot or sweet in green, orange, purple, red and yellow.

It had not entered my head, until I met these two, that peppers can be bred for flavour including citrus, fruity, smoky, dry, minty, nettley and so on. Pepper ‘Aji Delight’, for example — the white caterpillar chilli with creamy white wrinkled fruits that resemble caterpillars — has a hot, distinctive citrus flavour.

Capsicum baccatum ‘Havana Gold’ (Suttons) has a rich, complex flavour with fairly mild heat. The thin-walled fruits are excellent for drying to make chilli powder. "Dust a little like pepper onto you fish and chips," I was told.

Capsicum b. ‘Spangles’ (Mr Fothergill’s) from Brazil has a fairly mild, perfumed and delicate, very sweet flavour. The fruits change from purple to white then yellow before bright red. All these colours on the one plant make it ornamental as well as edible.

Novelty for 2019 release is Capsicum annuum ‘Little Bomb’, a small, bright-red, thick-walled chilli for stuffing. Chefs just trim round the base of the stem and pull out the core to leave a cavity ready for meat or cheese fillings. They can be cooked and eaten raw.

Kellet Gate breeding is geared to the needs of British gardeners and cooler climatic conditions, with a number early to come into fruit and very heavy cropping. They are looking at small-fruiting kinds that come away from the plant without a stalk — a useful quality when picking lots for pickling.

How long, I ask, before we have garden centre pepper-tasting weekends, akin to wine and apple tasting? It cannot be long if Maggie and Mark’s enthusiasms are let loose. Watch out too for their new Tomato ‘Ruby Falls’ — deep-red, richly flavoured with handsome trusses on compact plants.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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