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STYLE / GARDENS : Pick a Pepper

May 02, 1993|JUDITH SIMS

It wasn't very long ago that only one pepper was sold in American supermarkets: green.

Then came the French/Southwest/Thai/Italian/Sichuan food revolution, and now produce sections are blooming with green, red and yellow bells, an assortment of lethal little bullets like jalapenos and serranos , even larger, milder chiles for stuffing, such as pasilla and Anaheim. In fact, it isn't unusual for a non-ethnic market to stock seven kinds of fresh peppers and a few more dried, usually anchos , negros , cayenne and New Mexico.

At home, gardeners can grow an even more glorious rainbow of Capsicum annuum

from seed:Besides the obvious greens, reds and yellows, seed companies now offer brown (the drabbest color happens to be the sweetest, best-tasting), purple, lavender, ivory, orange and gold bells and a few slender, horn-shaped Italians in green, red and yellow. Chile peppers don't

come in as many colors, but their sizes, shapes and heat quotients are bewildering. They include large Big Jims and New Mexicans, often strung together in wreaths, long, yellow Hungarians,

purple Auroras, orange Tabascos, half-inch red Thai Hot peppers and little apricot-gold

habaneros , so hot they can practically cauterize wounds.

Several peppers put on a show all by themselves, starting out green, turning yellow or orange

and finally ripening to red if left on the plant long enough. Some newer varieties, especially the yellows and browns, stay the same color. Others, like the darker purples, turn green when cooked.

Many varieties are available through catalogues from Stokes Seeds (Box 548,

Buffalo, N.Y. 14240) and Park Seed Co. (Cokesbury Road, Greenwood, S.C.

29647-0001), which also sell seed-starting media, much more absorbent and nutritious than potting soil. Start pepper seeds indoors--even if days are warm, nights can be chilly--in any container that has good drainage, and don't let the seed-starting medium dry out. If the seedlings lean toward the sun, give the container a quarter turn every day. When they are about six inches tall and nighttime temperatures top 55 degrees, plant them in fertile soil where they can get plenty of sun and water.

Peppers have become so popular that several books and at least one magazine are devoted

to them. Chile Pepper Magazine, subtitled Spicy World Cuisine, is published by Out West Publishing, 5106 Grand N.E., P.O. Box 80780, Albuquerque, N.M. 87196. "The Whole Chile Pepper Book" (Little Brown) was written by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach, and "Pepper Gardening" (Tenspeed Press), by DeWitt and Paul Bosland, is due this fall.

Whether you grow them or buy them, today's peppers are more than mere food: With

their dazzling colors, they are a feast for the eye as well as the palate.

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