How are you all holding up? We’re still mostly isolating ourselves at home which offers plenty of time to do all kinds of things. For a while now, I’ve wanted to improve my cooking skills using variations of both capsicum and legumes, so I started actually reading some of the cookbooks on the shelf – primarily a book on Indian cuisine, a recently acquired one on Peruvian cooking, and another one on chili peppers. Suddenly I learned something that is so painfully obvious that I feel like I should have known this for at least as long as I’ve been a gardener.
You know the nightshade family – Solanaceae? In particular, the members of the subfamily Solanoideae; potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.? I think it’s fairly common knowledge that those all came from South America – right? And yet, it totally blew my mind to learn that ALL of the world cuisines as we know them today, have the Portuguese to thank for the global spread of the members of the Solanaceae family, and the Capsicum genus. That’s right – before that fateful October day when Cristóbal Colón cast anchor off the east coast of the Americas, no other part of our planet had anything remotely like a chili pepper!!! A hundred years or so later, it was EVERYWHERE!! Wow… I can’t even imagine Ethiopian, Thai or Indian food without it. What a gigantic, historic, culinary watershed moment!
As plants and growers are wont to do, over the next 5 – 600 years the various peppers mutated, were crossbred and further hybridized. Now, there are varieties that we consider typical for the various regions – piri piri in East Africa and birdseye peppers in Southeast Asia, to name a couple. This might explain how I had so completely missed making this connection, but holy crap – what a life altering revelation!! Not to forget the other three major staples either – what would the Swedes and the Irish be without potatoes, the Chinese without the eggplant, and the Italians without the tomato? I’m stunned! And also very, very grateful I picked up that book.
Stay well, everyone!