Wednesday, 10 October 2012
There are pretty much 2 standard sweet (non-Bell type) peppers that have been sold by Ontario seed companies for years, if not decades - this is one of them. (The other is Sweet Banana.)
There's a reason for that; they are productive plants that deliver consistently in our climate, in hot dry summers and in cool wet ones. They are prolific producers of peppers, and they start early and keep coming until frost. (Which we haven't actually had so far, although aaaaaaany moment...!) The peppers are very mild and yet with a good flavour. Most sources say they get hotter as they turn red, but my experience is the opposite - the sweetness and flavour intensified as they got the red glow seen above, but no trace of heat. Mind you, I don't have the patience to wait for them to get much riper than that, so I suppose it's possible. There may also be different strains out there; my seed came from OSC.
A number of sources say they are also known as banana peppers or Italian sweet frying peppers; this is really not accurate. Those are different peppers (and in fact there are a number of different varieties of peppers within both those categories). What people mean, I suppose, is that they are all similar enough to use interchangeably, although I have never seen a banana or Italian frying pepper really large enough to stuff like a Cubanelle - both tend to be a lot thinner. Actually, there are some hybridized or selected varieties of Cubanelle as well, although I find the basic original to be excellent as-is and see no need to spring for more expensive or unreproducible seed.
Most people sell these at the light green to barely yellow stage, and I've always thought these were a very nice pepper, but nothing outstanding because of that. Growing them in my own garden and letting them get a bit riper has changed that opinion - now I think they're delicious! Do you think we could persuade market growers to let them get a little red?
The peppers range from medium sized - say about 4 inches long - to up to almost twice that long; big enough to stuff. The walls are thin and allow the pepper to cook quickly, but not so thin as to toughen or lack substance. They retain what thickness they have when roasted. (I discovered to my dismay this week that this does not apply to all peppers! Some I thought had nice thick walls just... disappeared into a sack of skin and seeds.)
I particularly like Cubanelles because I can eat them. Yeah, I know; not really a high standard. The thing is though: Bell type peppers (your standard supermarket green, yellow or red peppers) give me horrible indigestion. These lack whatever it is that makes Bell peppers so indigestible. So if that's a problem for you, you might want to give these a (cautious) try.
The plants are a nice, mid to larger sized bush and I have had no trouble with diseases or pest on them, beyond having had mild mottle virus in all the peppers a year or two ago. As I recall these stood up to it as well as any of them. We tend to crowd our peppers terribly, and they cope. I suspect they would do even better with more space. Also, we always fail to get around to staking them, and once they get enough peppers on them, they topple. A good sturdy tomato cage would be sufficient to hold them up, I would think. At 65 to 70 days to maturity from planting out, they are remarkably early.
Their history, as with so many things, is somewhat obscure. According to Wikipedia, they are grown extensively in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I certainly saw nothing like it in Cuba when I was there, although as a sweet mild pepper it would fit right into Cuban cuisine. I was there for 2 weeks, so take that for what it is worth. On the other hand, according to Food University, "The Cubanelle name is derived from Cuba, however it is thought to be of Italian origin being introduced to America in 1958. It is possible that the Italians first acquired it from Cuba or vice-versa." The redoubtable Tatiana notes that it was donated to the USDA in 1962 by the Joseph Harris Company Inc. Here is a pepper which has definitely proved itself, and it will continue to be a staple in my garden for years to come, I am sure.