Some blog posts are spontaneous things, dashed off in an hour. This one is nearly a year in the making, and its satisfying to see a project through from start to finish.
In January 2019 I had a meal out in Pizza Express and found tiny sweet chillies sprinkled through my Caesar salad. I had never tasted these before. They were crunchy and spicy rather than burning hot and I had not seen them for sale anywhere. After a bit of a hunt I tracked these down as Biquito Red chillies (Capsicum chinense), from Brazil, the name translating as ‘little beak’. They are also known as Roquito pearls but this seems to be a trade name for Biquito, rather than a separate variety.
I bought my seeds from Sea spring seeds, a chilli specialist based in Dorset. Germination is recommended at 27 degrees, not easy in Sheffield in February. In the absence of a heated propagator I sowed 5 seeds to each 9cm pot, covered in plastic bag, and took them into work where the heating is more reliable. Germination in February took 2-3 weeks and I moved them into individual large pots as they got bigger. Three I kept on a south facing windowsill at work and three I moved home. They produced lots of tiny white flowers, then green fruit but ripening was painfully slow in a cool summer and it was October before I had red chillies.
And the verdict? To be honest, eaten straight from the bush they were disappointing and quite bitter. A hotter summer might have made a difference. However, within two weeks of being pickled in a mix of white vinegar, sugar and spices, they became an excellent sweet and sour, spicy, crunchy store cupboard treat, and a tasty addition to stews and pizzas. Sea spring plants describe them as ‘flavour bombs’ and while that might be going a bit far, they certainly liven up a winter veggie casserole. There’s a good James Wong article in the Guardian which gives full instructions for pickling.