Peppers are highly adaptable plants that have been molded by selection to suit the culinary needs and growing conditions of many different cultures around the world. Modern plant breeders have further modified many of the more popular varieties, some to the point that they are hardly recognizable by members of the cultures from which they emerged. The result is an amazing array of different flavors, shapes and sizes of hot peppers. What we call hot peppers may also be known as chile, chile peppers, chili, spicy peppers, and undoubtedly many other names. At the Tree Farm, what we mean by hot peppers is those peppers in which we can feel, taste, sense or otherwise perceive the presence of capsaicin in the pepper fruit. (Capsaicin is the substance that makes peppers spicy or hot. If you are looking for peppers without the burn, we also raise many kinds of sweet peppers.)

Hungarian wax type peppers
Hungarian Wax (Hot Banana) Peppers
Poblano Hot PeppersPoblano Hot Peppers -- These dry to become Ancho
JalapenoPick Jalapenos with cracks for best flavor.
Asian type hot peppersAsian Type Hot Peppers
Cayenne PeppersTwo varieties of Cayenne Peppers
Ghost chilisGhost chilis. Please wear gloves while picking these.

At The Tree Farm we raise more than 25 different varieties selected from more than 15 different kinds of hot peppers. These peppers range from barely spicy to extremely hot! They range from about 1/2 inch to 10 inches in length. Some are blocky, others long and slender. Some mature in late July, others require more time, and ripen in September.

Hot Pepper Varieties

Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean: We raise several types of peppers that originated in Mexico and the Caribbean basin. These include poblano, chilaca, Anaheim, cherry hot, habanero, jalapeno, mariachi and serrano. Jalapenos and mariachis are usually available by the first of August. Cherry hots usually ripen early in August; poblano, Anaheim and serrano late in that month. Habaneros only ripen in September in our climate.

Europe: Several kinds of hot peppers have been selected to meet the needs for various European cuisines. The European types we raise are Hot banana (Hungarian Wax), Hot Portugal, and Pepperoncini. Portugese and Hungarian wax types are among the earliest varieties we raise, and are usually available at the green ripe stage in late July. Pepperoncini are normally available by mid August.

Asia: Many kinds of peppers have been selected to fit the Asian taste, particularly in southern Asia. At The Tree Farm we raise several different kinds of cayenne peppers, the traditional peppers for drying in many parts of Asia, and varieties from Laos and Thailand. The very hot Lao peppers begin to ripen to orange in early August.

Recently, we have also started raising the infamous Ghost Pepper or Ghost chili which originates in India and is among the very hottest peppers in the world.

How to Pick Hot Peppers

Picking hot peppers is easy. The trick is in knowing which peppers to pick. For best quality, hot peppers should feel firm, and be full size for the variety being picked. Pick Jalapenos when you see thin white lines or cracks -- fruit are at their peak flavor at this stage. Gloves are suggested for picking the very spicy Ghost chili hot peppers.

Peppers don't develop their full flavor until after they reach full size. Most hot peppers are a green color while the fruit is growing. (Some are yellow, others purple at this stage). They then darken to a stage called "green ripe", which is often the hottest stage of hot pepper maturity. "Green ripe" peppers can be recognized because they are firm and full size for their variety. As the seeds ripen, the pod usually turns red or orange and the flavor mellows. Of course, this all varies from variety to variety.

Uses for Hot Peppers

For the Tender Tongue: If you have a tender tongue, but like just a little spice in your food, consider chilacas and pepperoncini, or perhaps the slightly spicier poblanos and mariachis. These are relatively mild peppers. Poblanos are great for chile rellenos (Peppers roasted, peeled, seeded, stuffed with cheese and cooked in an egg batter.) Anaheims are a good choice for spicier chiles rellenos. Mariachis are our pepper of choice for making a mild salsa. All of these relatively mild peppers do well in salads and sandwiches.

Substituting Anaheims for sweet peppers in some hot dishes and casseroles adds a very pleasant, but not overbearing flavor. Anaheims and poblanos freeze very well, and can be used for cooking all winter straight out of the freezer. Expect anaheims to vary somewhat from one to the next in the amount of "heat" in the pepper. In some seasons, mature or nearly mature anaheims have very tough skins. This is probably why the peppers are normally roasted and peeled to make chile rellenos. The very mild Italian pepperoncini provide a very nice flavor addition to salads, sandwiches or in other uses where just a little more spice than a bell pepper is desired. Perhaps the most common use for pepperoncini is for pickling. They make a wonderful mild pickled pepper.

Hotter: For these who like things hot, we offer peppers such as jalapenos, cherry hots, cayenne and small peppers that originated in Thailand and Laos. Different kinds of extremely hot peppers really do have different flavors -- and they all pack plenty of heat!

Hottest: In the firey hot class, habaneros were once known as the hottest peppers in the world. Then they were replaced by Ghost chili pepper (also known as Bhut jolokia) as the hottest pepper known. Ghost chilis are the hottest peppers available at The Tree Farm. As seed for hotter peppers becomes available, we will undoubtedly plant some of those as well.

Stir Fries, Dried Peppers, & Dilly Beans: If you like stir fries, consider the Asian types of peppers. One pepper in a large stir fry is about enough for a gently spicy meal for us. Cayenne, Thai and Lao hot peppers move rapidly up the spicy scale. The Asian peppers dry easily and can be stored dry for use from the time between killing frost and next years' crop. We find the various hot Asian types excellent for flavoring dill pickles and dilly beans. The best person to ask how to use this kind of pepper is someone who grew up in the cooking tradition of south China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos or south India.

Salsa: Our favorite salsa recipe uses anaheim and jalapeno peppers. We adjust the amount of "heat" by the number of jalapenos in the mix. Salsa made with all jalapenos will be quite hot. That made only from anaheims will be moderately hot. Use mariachis for a mild salsa. A full range of flavors is available from this blend. Chile Rellenos: Those who want their chile rellenos really hot use Anaheims or Hungarian wax peppers. For mildly spicy chile rellenos use chilacas or poblanos.

Pickled Peppers: There are, of course, many different recipes for pickled peppers. Many people have their personal favorites. One of the fun things about making your own pickles is that they are your own, what you really like. But it takes time, effort and often some experimentation to "get it just right". (Maybe that's why grandma makes such good pickles. She has had many years to perfect her recipes.) Jalapenos, cherry hots and pepperoncini are all popular for pickling. After years of experimenting, we "Tree Farm people" have finally settled on pickled pepperoncini as our personal favorite.


Pickled pepperoncini

Wash pepperoncini, slice in half lengthwise (optional), stuff in jars.

Bring to boil:
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups water
1 Tablespoon pickling salt
1 Tablespoon sugar

Pour brine over peppers and place lids on jars

Process 15 minutes

The Tree Farm
The Pick-your-own Vegetables Place
In Northwestern Dane County, Wisconsin, serving Madison and the surrounding area
8454 State Road 19
Cross Plains, WI 53528


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Updated May 07 2017

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