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Beat the winter blues with a spicy little pepper

January 18, 2017

It’s nice to get a surprise, especially if that surprise is from Calabria, the toe of the boot-shaped country of Italy. With its long history of agriculture, Calabria quickly adopted the New World hot peppers for its own. 

Like a woman drawn to the excitement and sense of danger that bad boys bring, there is a certain naughtiness to think of actually kissing the devil.

Ciliegia piccante is a tiny Calabrian hot pepper the size of a golf ball, affectionately known as Bacio di Satana or “Satan’s Kiss.” One bite and you know why. This Italian heirloom pepper starts off tasting sweet, but soon the kiss has a spicy, hot aftertaste. In Calabria, Satan’s Kiss peppers are grilled with anchovies and mozzarella cheese. The good news is that they lose about half of their heat when cooked, so they end up being just mildly hot. Besides grilling, try some of these tiny peppers pickled. They also make an outstanding hot pepper sauce. 

On a cold winter day it might be nice to get a hot kiss, so try growing Satan’s Kiss peppers indoors in pots. A perfect soil will have a pH between 7.0 and 8.5, though any good potting soil should work. Press one or two seeds into the pot, covering the seed with just a quarter-inch of soil. Water well but don’t get too soggy. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Too much water will rot the plants. They like full sun and a warm room, above 70 F if possible. 

Seeds are available from many merchants, including Seeds of Italy (www.growitalian.com), J. L. Hudson Seedsman (PO Box 337, La Honda, California 94020) and Sustainable Seeds (www.sustainableseedco.com or 800-620-SEED). 

Once your plants are up and growing with at least one set of true leaves you can begin fertilizing with a diluted mixture of liquid organic fertilizer. Choose a fertilizer for flowering plants, as the flowers are what will become the peppers. 

Set your Satan’s Kiss pepper plants where they can get direct sun for at least 10 hours a day. For better results during the dark days of winter, try using grow lights. Your plants will begin blooming and setting fruits in about 90 days.

They have thick flesh that holds up during cooking. The peppers grow facing up for a colorful houseplant just 18 to 24 inches tall. Pick the peppers when they have ripened from green to shiny bright red. These will keep producing delicious little peppers for several months. 

To grow Satan’s Kiss peppers outdoors, sow the seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last spring frost. Only set them out after they have grown several leaves and the soil has thoroughly warmed up. 

So beat the winter blues with a spicy little pepper that not only makes an attractive houseplant but the most delicious appetizers when grilled.

With Satan’s Kiss peppers, being bad never tasted so good

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.