Chill with chillies
Black pepper was the favourite spice of the world. When the Arabs disrupted the trade with Europe, perhaps in response to the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, the Europeans set out to find a sea route to India. Columbus landed in what was later named the West Indies and others reached South America, where they found chillies used as a spice. Vasco da Gama reached Kerala in 1498 A D and later in 1510, Goa became the first European colony in the whole of Asia. It became the point of entry of a substitute for black pepper that was known as green pepper or bell pepper. The terminology follows this trend across languages, from ‘kali mirch’ to ‘hari mirch’ or ‘lal mirch’ in Hindi and from ‘miri’ to ‘mirisang’ in Konkani language. Today, the Latin American chillies have eclipsed the pepper in the Indian cuisine, from Maharashtrian and Tandoor to Mughlai and Bengali. We even have Kashmiri chillies.
Chillies are both annual and perennial. The very tiny erectly-held chilies, commonly known as ‘Portugali or tarvotti mirsang’, are perennial, living for 5 to 10 years. They are called ‘bird chillies’ because the birds feast on them as they ripen on the plants. It is these tiny ones that make Goan papads taste different from their counterparts from other states. Most of the other varieties, have various shapes and sizes, eg Kashmiri, byadgi, massuri, Khola, Aldona black and other varieties. The stout chillies are commonly known by their generic name capsicum. They do better in cooler temperature and have earned the name ‘Shimla mirch’ for this reason. They are normally stuffed with meat, prawns or vegetables and also used fresh in tossed salads.
For raising seedlings, sow two seeds per spot in a slotted seedling tray filled with a mixture of soil or coco peat and compost in equal quantities. Use a single seed if sowing expensive hybrid seeds. Add a little of the mixture to cover the seeds. Water lightly and cover with a thick transparent polythene sheet or glass pane. There is no need to water till seeds germinate. If not covered, water lightly every afternoon when the surface soil is dry. Seedlings can be grown on raised beds 20 cm above ground level, about one metre wide and of desired length.
Cover the raised bed with paddy straw as mulch to keep the soil moist and cool in the afternoons and warm during the cool nights. Reduce the mulch after a week and remove entirely when the seedlings get new leaves. Water the bed lightly every afternoon, preferably with a shower attachment or a watering can. Reduce the watering when the plants have four leaves and transplant them at 5 to 6 leaf stage, preferably in the cool evening hours to avoid drying up. Seedlings are also available on sale in Mapusa’s Friday market on January mornings between 8 and 10 a.m., rarely later.
A single plant can be grown in a ten to twelve inches diameter pot in a balcony or on the terrace. Compost your kitchen waste and use it to manure the plants. It is quite simple once one gets it right.