by L.J.Creapeau, Editor
The story of the fish pepper is kind of interesting.
“All the ‘Fish’ peppers now sold by seed companies trace back to seed I shared many years ago through Seed Savers Exchange. From my grandfather’s little seed jar, this unique variegated-leaf pepper spread to the world of pepper aficionados and, because of its ornamental character, to landscape gardeners.
My grandfather acquired the seed in the 1940s from Horace Pippin, a black folk painter in West Chester, Pa. Mr. Pippin suffered from a war injury that he referred to as “the miseries.” Because the miseries were of an arthritic nature, he would beg my grandfather to let him counter the pain with honeybee stings. My grandfather’s bee hives were his pride and joy, and the idea of killing bees (honeybees die shortly after stinging) in the name of an old wives’ remedy did not sit well with him.
So to humor my grandfather and “pay” for the dead bees, Pippin would bring seeds, sometimes wonderfully rare varieties from old-time gardeners in his far-flung network of friends stretching from Philadelphia to Baltimore and beyond. The ‘Fish’ peppers came from Baltimore, where they had been employed by black caterers to make white paprika for the cream sauces then popular with fish and shellfish cookery. In terms of heat, they are like cayenne, but are more mellow when cooked. The white pods were also used in soups where red peppers would have created a muddied appearance. As far as Mr. Pippin could tell, these peppers had been in use since the 19th century, one of those secret heirloom ingredients that never showed up in cookbooks. They were simply part of oral tradition.
Today, ‘Fish’ peppers are popular for their ornamental qualities and because the 2-foot plants are easy to grow in containers. The leaves, with their patches of white and gray-green, derive their unique appearance from the same recessive genes that cause albinism. This results in a curious combination of striped pod colors, from white to red. ‘Fish’ peppers make perfect accent plants in the landscape. Of course, they’re also grown for cooking, and are perfect for drying into wonderful hot-hot chili powder.” ~ William Woys Weaver.
The fish pepper is a little spicy gem. It is not as hot as a jalapeno, but more mild, similar to a cayenne pepper. It grows more like a small bush and just one plant will produce several, striped and multi-colored little peppers, so you don’t need to grow many plants. We like to dehydrate them and keep them in a jar to use in chili, stew or soups over the winter. This little edible ornamental makes a great potted plant as well, but is definitely a complimentary addition to any kitchen garden.