Every year in my garden, one plant does very well, outpacing all others in productivity and vigor. Each year a peculiar set of elements - rain, light, perhaps whatever I laid down as mulch the year before -- combine to create near-perfect conditions for one of my edible crops. 2006 was the year of basil, 2007 the year of the tomato, 2008 the year of the zucchini, 2009 the year of the green bean. This year, there is no doubt: 2010 is the year of the pepper. My cucumbers ran a close second, but they all recently fizzled out, while the pepper plants are still going like gangbusters.
I am growing three varieties of pepper this year: orange thai (pictured at the top, drying), spanish padron (pictured above), and a mystery pepper (pictured below). The mystery pepper came in a seed packet labelled "pizza my heart" that billed it as seed for a 3-inch conical container pepper. Check out this link or this one for what the "pizza my heart" pepper was supposed to look like. Instead I am getting very large (read: not container-friendly) plants with 5- to 6-inch elongated peppers, pictured below. What gives? Looks more like a NuMex Joe Parker to me!
It is a felicitous mix-up, since the mystery peppers are by far our favorite. I am roasting them for pizza, pickling them in vinegar and drying them for winter use. The padron peppers are okay -- more thin-walled than the mystery pepper, and the heat varies from sweet to sweat-inducing burn. According to one source, they are officially considered a mild pepper, but thanks to a genetic variation, every tenth pepper is hot. Apparently, they are most often sold and eaten green. Lazy gardener that I am, many have turned red on the plant before I can harvest. At this point, the Spanish dry them and grind them into a paprika. I have been stuffing them with feta cheese and herbs, to much acclaim.
So there you have it, 2010, the year of the pepper. This is not idle naming -- indeed, it has become a critical way for me to mark life's passages. 2007, the summer of my son's birth, is forever entwined in my memory with the flavor of sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. I recall 2006 -- our last summer before the baby -- as a sweet, heady time redolent of pesto. I will now recall the summer of 2010 whenever I bite into a spicy pepper. I find it especially appropriate since my sister's recent marriage took place in New Mexico -- a land abundant in green chilis and gorgeous red ristras of dried peppers. This, too, has been a summer of personal loss, with days that smarted and burned, much like that tenth hot-as-hell padron pepper....but, as with life, you keep on. Close your eyes and bite in. You never know -- this time it may taste sweet.