Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Red Shepherd Peppers & Chervena Chushka Peppers
Life has been too busy this summer to post much about what we have been growing, but we pulled in most of the peppers last week, and there are a few other storage vegetables that are doing well, so look for some varietal reports over the next month. It's probably too late to buy these, but not too late to consider growing them next year.
The 2 peppers in the top right quadrant of the photo are Red Shepherd, a variety of pepper commonly available in groceries in the fall. The other 2 peppers are Chervena Chushka, a Bulgarian heirloom. I've never seen them for sale (although you might find them at farmers' markets), but seeds are readily available for them, and they are a popular pepper to grow at home. These are both large, long, thick-fleshed red peppers.
In general, Red Shepherd (sometimes spelt Shepard or Sheppard) are very large peppers, great for stuffing. They are a mild and sweet pepper, long and thin, although as noted, not too thin to be good stuffers. They do not have the compound which gives me indigestion that Bell peppers have, but can be used in pretty much any recipe calling for red Bell peppers; the same is true of the Chervena Chushka.
If you look for seed, the exact variety name appears to be "Super Shepherd", and it's an open-pollinated variety of Italian ancestry, although these large red rams-horn type peppers are also common in Spain, and they may have originated there before becoming common in Italy. Do pay attention when buying seed at any rate; there are some peppers with Shepherd in the name which are F1 hybrids.
The 2 peppers in the photo are not particularly large specimens. In general, I'd say they are at least twice as large as the Chervena Chushka tend to be. It's not unheard of for them to be as long as a foot, although mine were a "mere" 8 inches or so. The plant they grow on, however, is fairly compact - ours did not get above 2 feet tall, although well supplied with peppers. We kept them under plastic for most of the summer, as this was a very cool and damp year for us. That was enough to allow them to produce well.
They are described as taking about 65 to 70 days to maturity, but it seems to be late September to early October when they show up at the markets in large numbers. Ours certainly took that long, and I think 85 days is probably a more realistic time-frame in general. We bought these as seedlings and planted them outside in very early June, but usually we start peppers indoors on March 15th, expecting germination around April 1st.
Peppers in general don't have huge number of pests, but birds will sometimes peck at them, and with really sweet peppers like these, we have had some trouble with slugs and snails. This year was particularly bad, given how cool and wet it has been, and I opened too many peppers where I found a slug had drilled in and made itself at home. Still, these are pretty trouble-free peppers, and they hold on the plant well, and keep once picked quite well too.
Chervena Chushka looks a lot like Red Shepherd, only smaller. That is, the peppers are smaller, but the plant on which they grow is considerably taller and more robust, and produces more peppers overall. Ours reached a good 4' tall, even in this rather poor season. While they are smaller than Red Shepherd, the shape, texture, and flavour are all quite similar. They are said to be 85 days to maturity, and while I think this is a realistic time-frame, I note that they were ready as soon or sooner than my Red Shepherds. Again, I had a few slug problems but like most peppers they were a pretty trouble-free crop for us. Like the Red Shepherds, they held very well both on and off the plants.
While this pepper is widely circulated under the name Chervena Chushka, apparently this is simply the Bulgarian for "Red Pepper". Michigan Heirlooms suggests that the correct name for this variety is Kapija, which in turns suggests that its origin is perhaps Serbian, or Croatian, rather then Bulgarian, since Kapija seems to mean "Gate" in both those languages. However; for most of us that is a pretty fine distinction. Let's just say it's from the Balkans.
Either way, it's a really terrific pepper, good raw or roasted. I used mine to make Ajvar this year, and that would certainly be a typical use for these. I also roasted them for 30 minutes at 450°F in a single layer, turning them once at the 15 minute mark, until regularly charred on each side. I covered them and let them cool, then peeled them and froze them for use this winter in pasta sauces, soups, and stews.
Overall, I would say these are 2 of the best red peppers out there for Ontario growers. I will probably continue to grow Chervena Chushka ( Kapija) rather than Red Shepherd simply because I think it's a little more productive for me, I like the large robust plants, and I probably have more use for a slightly smaller pepper in general; however, whichever one you choose should give excellent results.