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Talking Chillis with Dan Reed

Dan Reed's Chillies

Dan Reed came on our Mexican Cookery Course this month and brought with him a huge assortment of unusual chillis that he grew himself. We were so fascinated by his passion for chillies that we couldn't resist asking him more about them. Dan has graciously given us permission to share his knowledge and experience in this interview - our first interview on the Demuths blog!

What drew you to growing chillies?

From a relatively young age I've had an interest in hot food. I have fond memories of my growing up and my dad making big pots of curry for the family (and a smaller saucepan of veggie curry for me!) I guess my tolerance to the hot food has developed over the years, and I've found myself eating hotter and hotter meals. Growing chillies developed over time. I was given my first plant by a friend, it was a Ring of Fire! When I realised how easy it was to grow them, I started planting more and more seeds.

Do you have a favourite chilli? Why?

Initially, I was drawn to the different varieties by their appearance - the colours, size and some amazing shapes. But over time I came to appreciate that some would germinate faster than others, or grow quicker, produce more chillies than others, and of course some varieties were much hotter than others. I have a couple of favourites. The Lemon Aji, for its amazing yellow colour, it grows pretty quickly and has a high yield of pretty hot fruit. The Trinidad 7 Pot is a firm favourite at the moment, its called the 7 pot, because locally its renowned that one chilli will service seven pots of stew. That's one chilli per family for a week - Bonkers. The Trinidad Scorpion is related to the 7 pot, and currently the worlds hottest chilli, rating 1.4 million scoville units, I guess I don't need to say much more about that! Whilst I'm quite interested in the Trinidad hot chillies, they really are so hot that you can't really do too much with them without causing tremendous amounts of pain and suffering! The faithful old Jalapeno will always hold a dear place in my heart though, being an avid fan of Mexican cuisine, and especially as I've just liberated my dads smoker... Chipotles here we come!

Dan chopping chillies

Are chillis just a hobby or would you like to do it more professionally?

At the moment growing chillies are just a hobby, though I give a number of both plants and fruit to friends and family. There is a huge interest in chillies, and different varieties are becoming more commonplace in the supermarkets and high street. I would love to get into chilli growing on a more commercial basis. I make my own hot sauces, and would definitely love to see a bottle or two for sale on a shop shelf somewhere.

Can chillis be grown indoors? During what times of year?

Chili plants are perennial, meaning they will live through an autumn/winter, and will often live for a few years given the right conditions. Though when you consider the temperature differences between the UK and their native countries (South America, Asia, India, etc) our winters get much colder, too cold for a chilli. They will grow outdoors in the Spring and Summer months, though should be brought indoors when the weather starts getting colder, I'd say from October onwards. They will happily live on a sunny windowsill or conservatory during the colder months, and can be put back outdoors when the weather starts warming up again, but this should be done over a few days, gently acclimatising the plants to the outdoor conditions. Potted plants can be grown indoors all year round, though you must ensure that when they start producing flowers and fruit that a nutrient is added to the soil such as tomato feed. Having experienced such a poor summer, I've just invested in a grow tent which is a thermal reflective tent which enables you to grow plants all year round. Hopefully I'll be picking fresh chillies for Christmas!

What types of chillis do you recommend people grow at home? Any growing tips for getting the best crop?

Generally speaking, the hotter the chilli, the longer (and slightly more difficult) they take to germinate and grow. The biggest thing to consider though is the tolerance you have to the capsaicin (the stuff that gives you the burning sensation, and makes chillies hot) levels of a chilli. If a chilli is too hot for you to eat, why grow it?! With that in mind, I'd suggest a slightly milder chilli to start with, and work up from there. The good classics to start with are Jalapeno, Piri Piri, Cayenne, Tabasco, Birds eye, etc, but this is just a personal opinion, other Chileheads would more than likely suggest their own favourites.

Growing wise, I'd suggest putting them in the ground will more often than not get you a bigger plant. Though if you are only able to grow in pots, upgrade the pots in small increments (don't go straight from a small seedling pot to something you'd stick a tree in!) It will take a little more effort, but your plant will be better for it. Once the fruit have started growing, and are ripe, don't leave them on the plant, the more you pick, the more it will produce. If you leave them on there, the plant will think that its produced everything it needs to because the fruit are still sitting on its branches. I've also recently read that growing the plants on their sides encourages the side shoots to grow, which apparently have a higher yield of fruit, though I haven't tried this one yet.

How do you use your chillis? What types of dishes and cuisines?

I put chillies in pretty much everything, I've been making sauces a lot lately which also goes on top of pretty much everything too. Cooking with fresh chillies is my preference, but if I ever have more than I can deal with, I'll chop them up and freeze them in ice cube trays. That way they're prepared and ready to throw into the next meal. My favourite cuisine has to be Mexican, I'm also a big fan of both Indian and Lebanese food. Given the choice, I would normally rather a selection of smaller dishes to one big one. I've picked up some great recipes from Demuths cookery classes, I'm particularly loving the Huevos Rancheros we made, and have eaten it a good half a dozen times over the last fortnight!

Dan makes a mean tamale!

Big thanks to Dan Reed for taking the time to talk chillies with us. Dan lives in Cardiff with his wife, Wendy, and two kids, Oakley (2 and half years) and Maya (8 months) old. He works for a firm of solicitors in the Brecon Beacons on a part time basis, and also with his wife Wendy in her company, science made simple.

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