August 12, 2019 10:02 AM   Subscribe

How Fiery Desert Chilis Can Protect Us from Climate Change

A landscape of thorny agaves, cacti, mesquite trees, and rock is not the first place one might imagine searching for the future of food. How could such a hot, dry place contain some of the keys to nourishing the world?

For further reading and gustatory enjoyment may I present a guide to identifying chili peppers, specifically those available in Tucson but applicable to the entire region.

posted by poffin boffin (15 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Those plants look so familiar! I'm sure I've run across them before. I'd no idea they were chilis. (That's the right way to spell chili, in my book.)
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:35 AM on August 12, 2019

That's the right way to spell chili, in my book.
Your book is too prescriptive; chile, chili, or ají are all fine.*

You can find wild chiles, wild squash and wild tomatillo in Southern CO, but as with these it's a little debatable how "wild" they are. "New World" cultivation practices were different enough from what the Europeans recognized that this chunk of historical ethnobotany has been going through periodic revisions for years.

* My pet peeve is people who pronounce habanero with an ñ.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

Cannot see how massive investment in trees can possibly go wrong. Probably need a small army of botanists, ecologists and arborists to get the mix of species right, especially with the changes in climate but wouldn't it be great if trees were the new growth industry, as in planting not cutting.
posted by sammyo at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

We have two potted chiltepin plants, one purchased at the Southside Community Land Trust's (Providence) wonderful plant sale a few years ago. The second was raised from it's seed which involved a very brief treatment with bleach to break dormancy. Experimentally, untreated seeds did not germinate. Mr. Botanizer dries them and sprinkles them on his food but is forbidden from cooking with them. The plants have summered outdoors and are loaded with fruit.
posted by Botanizer at 12:42 PM on August 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

ooh, do they deter plant nibblers when outdoors or are the nibblers firey and brave?
posted by poffin boffin at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2019

Nothing seems to nibble our chiltepin plants but they are eaten by birds so another common name is bird pepper. A neighbor has been using commercially available bird feed laced with hot peppers as a squirrel deterrent and the birds don't seem to mind. I'm not sure the squirrels do either.
posted by Botanizer at 1:07 PM on August 12, 2019

Seems to be a lot of people saying there is a diff in tolerance of hot stuff between the two. Why doesn't seem to be as nailed down.
posted by aleph at 1:18 PM on August 12, 2019

I've often speculated that we could raise chickens on hot chilies and produce spicy eggs.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:47 PM on August 12, 2019

These chiles grow wild in the woods near my house and in my backyard. Birds love 'em. As does my fam.
posted by Seamus at 1:58 PM on August 12, 2019

I've often speculated that we could raise chickens on hot chilies and produce spicy eggs.

It's been tried - doesn't make the eggs spicy, but if they eat enough red peppers the yolk gets more orange.

I'm not sure the squirrels do either. They do - thai chilis are one of the few things I can grow that rats and squirrels won't steal.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:33 PM on August 12, 2019

The reason the birds don't seem to mind peppers is that the receptors we have that activate the pain response when we eat peppers aren't the same ones birds have. Birds, who eat the peppers whole and don't masticate the seeds, don't experience the pain whereas mammals, with teeth that when used on peppers destroy the seeds, do.
posted by ZaneJ. at 6:16 PM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

We're at the very end of the season now, but there's still time to order Hatch Green Chile and have it delivered basically field-fresh right to your door (2-3 days after picking, faster than you'd find it in grocery stores). You'll have to spend a day roasting it and freezing it 3-4 peppers to a bag but after you do that, you'll have recipe-ready measures of delicious New Mexico green chile to use in all kinds of ways.

Mr. hippybear and I have been ordering from there for about a decade or so. We have enough stashed in the freezer from previous years we didn't order this year, which means 1) we are slacking with our green chile consumption and 2) we tend to order too much because who doesn't see green chile and go "holy shit I want as much of that as possible"?
posted by hippybear at 6:20 PM on August 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, our local Seattle grocery sells big bags of Hatch chilies...

They are tasty af
posted by Windopaene at 8:35 PM on August 12, 2019

My grandfather had a "volunteer" chiltepin bush by the back gate at his house here in Tucson. My love affair with spicy food began when he dared me to eat one. I fell in love with the burn. Fiery chili chased down with a cold Sunkist soda brings me right back. As a young adult I lived in a house with a gigantic chiltepin Bush and collected several cup fulls one year. After drying and grinding I had a ziploc bag full. That bag moved around with me for a decade until it finally fell apart in the bottom of a box during a move.

I think I'll need to buy a new bush whenever I have a place with outdoor space again.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:18 PM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]


I try to hit up the "chile pepper festival" at Brooklyn's Botanic Garden every year; mostly for the food aspect (tons o'booths with hot sauces and chile-spiced things, with a sub-set focused on things that combine chile and chocolate, and a couple of farmstands offering a selection of different chile varieties); but they also have a botanical-information angle that I've usually ignored (walking tours of the conservatory where someone points out the chiles they have on hand).

I was gonna go anyway, I think I may make a point of doing the kinds-of-pepper-plants tour and asking about this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on August 28, 2019

« Older A Swede in Rural China   |   Blind Spots - Listening to Albums for the First... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments