Growing up on our family farm, peperoni were a big part of our lives. My parents grew thousnads of pepper plants each year to ship to Italian families throughout British Columbia and Alberta. They were among a dozen families in the Central Okanagan that had, during the 40s and 50s, established their own market. The peppers were ordered by mail and shipped out by rail. Whether hot, mild or sweet, thousands of pounds of peppers were harvested each year.
Like the tomato, peppers are botanical fruits, but culinary vegetables, that are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Pepper seeds were imported to Spain in 1493 and then spread through Europe and Asia. The name “pepper” was bestowed by Europeans when Christopher Columbus brought the plant back to Europe. At that time, black pepper (peppercorns), from the unrelated plant “Piper nigrum,” originating from India, was a highly prized condiment. The name “pepper” was applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste. It was later applied to these fruits as well. In American English, hot peppers are referred to as chilis, in British English as chillis and in Spanish as chiles.
Sweet peppers, or "Bell Peppers”, go back at least to the late 1600's where the "pirate" and ship's surgeon Lionel Wafer wrote about them in the book "A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America” in the Caribean. Like their close relatives, chili peppers, bell peppers are sometimes dried and powdered. In that case, they are referred to as paprika. China is the world's largest producer of bell and chili peppers, followed by Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States.
The most sought after peppers by Italian famiies is the Pimento (also spelled pimiento). It is the sweetest pepper, with the thickest flesh making it the favourable pepper for roasting and canning. Fresh pimento peppers are hard to find in grocery stores but canned or bottled ones can be found in just about every grocery store. They are also commonly used as a stuffing in green olives or in pimento loaf deli meat.
Peppers are low in calories and exceptionally rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Preferred growing conditions for peppers include warm, moist soil in a temperature range of 21 to 29 °C (70 to 84 °F)
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening