The season’s gone out in a blaze of glory: thirty degrees of roasting October. Across the country, folk seized the summer swansong by the throat, getting out to light barbeques, jump into water, or just do a spot of beer gardening. Thankfully, the mutterings of a tiny minority of misery gutses, moaning about their winter salads bolting prematurely, were not able to dampen the festivities.
I’m not proud to be that guy, though I’m now pleased to report that, whilst the heat has not been typically autumnal, the misty dews have: keeping the soil moisture levels up and helping to stem the feared splitting of leaves to the flowering side.
Plus, as any other New Town boy could tell you, it’s all roundabouts. And swings. The tomatoes keep rolling out of the glasshouse like spilt drops of sun, and the Indian summer has coloured the cheeks of many of the pot-grown chillies. The latter are a sideline that have taken up far more of my attention this year than sidelines are really entitled to. But after the January trip to Mexico, I returned a hot head, determined to make Hawkwood a Centre of Chilli Excellence.
The Mexican “Jalapeno”, the “Hungarian Hot Wax” and “Ring of Fire” (a feisty little number, weighing in at 80,000 “Scoville Heat Units” (SHUs)), are expected to do well, under protection, in Southern England, and so they have. This week they were abundant and red-ripe, as Jazz and I picked to fulfill the box scheme’s annual spice allowance. But now, the more marginal cultivars are starting to ignite, like “Serrano”, brought back from the highlands around Puebla, now close to cropping in our little London valley. At 8,000 SHUs, it’s mild enough to have room to pack some flavour with its punch, and some Mexicans eat it raw as you or I would an apple.
Rising up the scale is Scotch Bonnet “Safi”, and Shazida’s Bengali variety, a birds eye type. Ready, but we haven’t yet dared to. Only the “Chocolate Habanero” looks in danger of failing to provide any decent fruit whatsoever. Our headline act, “Bhut Jolokia”, officially the world’s hottest pepper at over one million SHUs (about half the strength of pepper spray), are rising by the day. Still green, but it’s only a matter of time…
From being pots in the corner, dwarfed to insignificance by the summer beans and cucurbits, the glassshouse is now all about these bright little capsicums. There’s something about sliding into the year’s dusk with flames in our eyes and fires in our bellies. And, to misquote the Dalai Lama, if you think you’re too small to make a difference, try eating a raw chilli.