Three New Peppers

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‘Melrose’ is Chicago’s favorite heirloom cooking Pepper

Hot Peppers have been getting most of the hype in recent years but we’re stepping outside the Bell box with our new Blue Ribbon sweet varieties to expand the flavor palette without turning up the heat. Each of our new sweet Peppers brings its own unique character to the garden and the kitchen.

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‘Costa Rican Sweet’ is our new savory Southern Pepper

From Central America we have ‘Costa Rican Sweet’. It’s got big fruity Pepper flavor and is much tastier than a typical sweet variety, even though the shape is ‘Marconi’-esque. It’s shorter in length than ‘Marconi’ and a little wider at the top.

Pick these Peppers when the skin turns deep ruby red to experience the unique sweet, fruity flavor at its fullest. Fruits should be about six inches long at this point. We like to slice them for dipping in our homemade ranch dressing or tossing in salad because they’re so flavorful but ‘Costa Rican Sweet’ is just as tasty roasted or grilled.

It’s taken awhile for this Pepper to catch on in the US, possibly because it has the look of a hot Pepper. Timid taste buds might be afraid of it and heat seekers might be disappointed. We find it delicious, especially when the fruits are picked while small. Gardeners who’ve grown this Pepper in Costa Rica recommend planting it in soil with good drainage and at least six hours of sun a day. It also does well in patio pots.

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Thin skin and a sturdy shape give ‘Melrose’ its cooking and stuffing fame

Next up is a true Italian heirloom that’s beloved in the Chicago area. We’ve been on a quest to restore, keep, and reintroduce regional favorites and ‘Melrose’ fits the bill. There’s a great story behind this Pepper.

In 1903, Joseph and Lucia Napolitano emigrated from Southern Italy to America and brought with them a collection of seeds to grow fruits and vegetables to feed their family. Some of the seeds came from Pepper plants that had grown in volcanic earth in the small Italian town of Nocera Inferiore. These seeds grew easily in the rich soil of Melrose Park—the Chicago suburb where the family ended up—and the Napolitanos named the Pepper after their new hometown.

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It looks hot but ‘Melrose’ is sweet and savory at the same time

Soon the plant became a favorite among local Italian-American backyard gardeners. Many Italians settled in Melrose Park in the early 1900s because there were large tracts of fertile farmland, and their small, family-run farms came to be known as pepper patches. Their gardens reminded them of home, and these backyard gardens continued to thrive right on into the 1950s when the farmland was converted to retail and residential neighborhoods.

Chicago is still where you’re most likely to find the ‘Melrose’ Pepper and it is revered there. ‘Melrose’ is considered a superb heirloom frying Pepper and despite its resemblance to a hot chile it has no heat. When harvested young and green it tastes like an extra sweet green bell Pepper. When fully ripe and vivid red it’s super sweet, with deep, rich flavor that lends itself to many unique recipes.

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‘Melrose’ also makes a great dried Pepper for cooking later (or craft decor)

‘Melrose’ is great for pasta sauce and for stuffing, but it’s famously prepared as Cruschi—strung up and sun dried during the last days of summer and then deep fried in olive oil. Once fried, the Peppers are eaten as a crispy snack or crumbled and used to flavor or garnish other dishes.

This Pepper has many devoted fans among locals and those who’ve had the opportunity to try it. Until recently it was difficult to find outside the Chicago area. For some who have grown it ‘Melrose’ has become their primary Pepper—they grow more of it than they do bells. One apt description we’ve heard refers to it as “sweet, earthy, and thin skinned so it doesn’t overpower a dish.” It simply ticks all the boxes for a sweet Pepper.

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The Cherry Tomato of Peppers—Lunchbox Mix

We have one more new Pepper that ought to seem very familiar if you frequent the supermarket: Lunchbox Sweet Mix. We enjoy this size Pepper for snacking—it’s kind of like the Cherry Tomato of Peppers. We’ve been on the hunt to find the sweetest, most flavorful Lunchbox Pepper that doesn’t leave that odd Pepper taste in your mouth. This is the closest we have found to the perfect Pepper for that need.

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We’ve found the sweetest, most flavorful Lunchbox Pepper

These new sweet varieties join our already large collection of Blue Ribbon Peppers. They range from the devilishly hot ‘Carolina Reaper’ to the zesty ‘Jalapeño’ and the mild ‘Better Belle’, and from the savory ‘Garden Salsa’ and ‘Super Chili’ to the sweet ‘Purple Beauty’ and ‘Carmen’, to name just two.

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