• T.M. O’Shaughnessy

Red hot chili peppers


Ripening chili peppers get ready to be picked.

When you grow up with only salt, pepper and chocolate sprinkles in your spice rack, dealing with chili peppers can feel a little awkward – even daunting. They belong to some of the great cuisines my childhood kitchen table never even imagined.

It was only last year that I grew chili peppers for the first time. The plant was called ‘Basket of Fire’ and I became so enamoured, I searched high and low for it again this year at the garden centres. But struck by COVID-19’s sudden avalanche of hyper new gardeners, there were no more chili plants to buy and my basket of fire hopes sadly flamed out instead.

Luckily, my sister and I ended up finding, and then splitting, what we initially thought was a single chili plant. It turned out to be two different plants growing together, and each of us was able to have our own tiny sprig that promised to become some kind of pepper in August. We didn’t know what either of them was called, but my sister’s peppers have turned out round and plump while mine are long and pointy as a witch’s hat. However, both have grown well and we are thrilled to have cadged them at all.

My non-basket-of-fire plant is a thing of beauty, whatever her name is.

Last week, after staying stubbornly green, the chilies turned red so fast, I could barely get a before-and-after shot. And now I’m gloating over a little harvest of at least 15 peppers—and greedily wondering what to do with them.


My chili plant has a crop of about 15 peppers this summer.

Of course, some will be dried and used to flavour homemade infused olive oil perfect for sprinkling over pizza, pasta or my all-time favourite choice – poured warm over homemade hummus.

For the fresh chilies, there’s nothing like being chopped up and sautéed with ginger, garlic and green onions and stirred through a couple of cups of tender-yet-crispy August corn (fresh would be best, but it’s a delicious way to serve the frozen kind as well). With some cilantro leaves and a generous dash of lime at the last minute before eating, I’ll be thanking my lucky stars I managed to filch my little chili pepper sprig this spring.

And then there’s homemade salsa, of course, especially since I was fortunate enough to have been given a scarce tomato plant too. There are literally dozens of recipes online for making salsa – and it doesn’t take many chilies to goose-up any one of them.

Which is good news for my miniature, though obviously exquisite, chili pepper harvest of 2020.