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Native to the Americas, peppers enjoyed early and wide dissemination around the globe during the first century of Spanish settlement in central and south America. Prior to European settlement Native planters had developed a variety of forms of annual and perrenial Capiscum. These are the landrace ancestors of the cultivated varieties. The peppers rapidly became global vegetables. North American botanists believed that certain of the favorite peppers cultivated in the United States, including the Bell pepper, derived from India (they even assign a 1759 introduction date).[1] Whatever their places of origin, the peppers were recognized as being topical, heat-loving plants, suited to southern gardens, and problematic in northern areas outside of hothouses. Invariably grown from seed, farmers arrayed seedlings 18 inches to two feet apart, depending on the girth of the mature plant.

In North America during the early 19th century common classifications highlighted the form of the seed pods: bell pepper, tomato shaped pepper (Squash Pepper) , long-podded red pepper (Bird’s Bill), short podded pepper, round short-podded pepper (Cherry or West Indian Pepper), heart-shaped pepper. With the rise of the commercial seed companies, these categories were further complicated by a host of proprietary names.

In northern regions they were a favorite hot house plant; in the south they were often planted directly in the garden in April. Harvested before the first frost, the pods were hung to dry in strings on kitchen walls or hung in paper bags on the breast of the cook house chimney.[2] Once fully dry they could be ground in a mortar to a beautiful red powder. Ground Cayenne pepper, ginger and black pepper were “esteemed the best of spices” since American cooks suspected that cloves, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice provoked headache and indigestion in ‘weak persons” (Cook’s Own Book xxix). Yet the demand for Cayenne among American cooks was so great, that commercially prepared powders were “subject to great adulteration, flour being often mixed with it, and, still worse, red lead, which is much of the same color, and greatly increases the weight.”[3] A high percentage of the crop was used for pickling; gardeners picked pickle peppers before the came to full ripeness. Varieties that had the heat bred out of them—the sweet peppers, such as the Sweet Spanish, the Quince Pepper, and the Bell Pepper—enjoyed particular favor as salad ingredients and as pickles. Several varieties became objects of intensive greenhouse cultivation around northern cities by the 1840s. The globular red and yellow cherry peppers were deemed so handsome that persons grew them as ornamentals. The tomato-shaped Squash pepper, with its ribs and nearly 3 inch diameter, because of its mild taste became in the mid-19th century a market pepper sought by pickle manufacturers. Because it yielded nearly three tons an acre, it attracted the particular attention of plant breeders who varied colors and shapes to give pickle pots visual variety. The greatest desideratum was to create a plush fleshed Squash pepper.

For most of the 19th century, peppers were used either for seasoning or pickling. One application as a seasoning became particularly important. When farmers realized that a cayenne rub on the exterior of Hams protected them from skippers, the insect scourge of curing meat, red pepper became, with sugar, salt, and sodium nitrate an essential component of country ham.

The southwestern chili pepper was cultivated in parts of the south as a cayenne substitute, since its normal size tripled in length that of the standard hot pepper. Its distinctive contribution to Native cuisines was not recognized until the latter decades of the 19th century, when chili con carne began to register on Anglo consciousness.

1. William White, Gardening for the South (New York, 1868), p. 274.
2. E. M. Ford, “Cotton Press and Cayenne Pepper,” American Farmer 7, 15 (July 1, 1825), p. 119.
3. Fearing Burr, Jr., The Field and Garden Vegetables of America (Boston: William F. Gill & Company, 1874), p. 609.

Chili    History

- used in the manufacture of pepper sauce. Pods sharply conical, brilliant scarlet, and exceedingly red.

Long Red Cayenne    History

- a long slim pod, rather pointed, and when ripe, of a bright red color. Extremely strong and pungent.

Large Squash    History

- fruit large, flat, tomato shaped, more or less ribbed; skin smooth and glossy; flesh mild and thick meated, and pleasant to the taste; the best variety for pickling; leading market variety.

Large Bell, or Bull Nose    History

- a very large sort, of square form, tapering to a point, mild, thick and hard; suitable for filling with cabbage, &c., and for a mixed pickle. Less pungent than most other sorts, and one of the earliest varieties.

Sweet Mountain    History

- nearly identical with the preceding, though a bit larger.

Monstrosum    History

- fruit the largest of any, often eight inches to a foot long and two to three inches thick.

Cherry Formed    History

- fruit erect, small, productive and ornamental.

Long Yellow    History

- pods long and tapering; rather late, two feet.

Long Red    History

- fruit brilliant; very productive, fine for picking; tow feet.

Sweet Spanish    History

- large, early, sweet, and mild; for salads or pickling.

Ox-Heart    History

- a new (as of 1877) and excellent variety for pickling; much superior to the Squash, or Tomato-Shaped.

Cayan Pepper Pot (Hortus jamaicensus 1814)    History

Take the ripe bird peppers, dry them well in the sun; then put them into an earthen or stone pot, mixing flour between every stratum of pods; and put them into an oven after the baking of bread, that they may be thoroughly dired; after which they must be well cleansed from the flour; and if any of the stalks remain adhering to the pods, they should be taken off, and the pods reduced to a fine powder; to every ounce of this add a pound of wheat flour, and as much leaven as is sufficient for the quantity intended. After this has been properly mixed and wrought, it should be made into small cakes, and baked in the same manner as common cakes of the same size; then cut t hem into small parts, and bake them again, that they may be as dry and hard as biscuit; which, being powdered and sifted, is to be kept for use. (John Lunan, Hortus Jamaicensis. Jamica, 1814. P. 358.)

To Pickle Green Peppers (Housekeeping Made Easy 1843)    History

The bell pepper is the best for pickling, and should be gathered when quite young. Slit oe side, and carefully take out the core, so as not to injure the shell of the pepper. Then put them into boiling salt and water, changing the water every day for one week, and keeping them closely covered in a warm place near the fire. Stir them several times a day. They will first become yellow, and then green. When they are a fine green put them into a jar, and pour cold vinegar over them, adding a small piece of alum. They require no spice. (Ellis, p. 38).

Pickle Peppers (Improved Housewife 1844)    History

Take such as are fresh and green. If you do not wish them very fiery, cut a small slit in them, and take the seeds out carefully and neatly with a small knife. Soak them in a strong brine eight or ten days, changing the water daily. Keep them where warm. If liked stuffed, chop white cabbage fine, season it highly with cinnamon, mace, and cloves, and fill the peppers with it, adding nasturtions if liked. Sew them up nicely, and put them in cold spiced vinegar. Tomatoes, if green and small, are good pickled with the peppers. (P. 156).

Preserved Green Rose Peppers (Cookery As It Should Be 1855)    History

Select the green rose pepper, as many as required; cut out with a sharp knife all the seeds; m out the salt; then place them in a preserving kettle, with alternate layers of green cabbage leaves and peppers; place the kettle containing them over a very moderate heat; let them remain until quite green, then remove them from the kettle and make a stronger ginger water, and let them remain in this water four days; then make a syrup as directed of loaf sugar; drain the peppers well and put them in a deep dish or pan, and pour over the warm syrup; let them remain in the pan for two hours; then pour off all this syrup and again heat it, and pour it war over the peppers; let them lay in the syrup all night; in the morning pour off the syrup and add to it one pound and a half of loaf sugar, to every ound of peppers; shave very thinly the oily part of the rind of four fresh lemons, according to the number of peppers, just to flavor the syrup; boil the rind in the syrup; put the peppers into glass jars; and pour the syrup over them warm; f ill up the jar well with the syrup; then lay on a piece of linen and cork lightly, and dip the corks in the cement: in a month they are fit for use; and if this direction is strictly observed they are very delicious. (P. 279)

Broiled Bell Peppers (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Dip the Peppers in boiling water and then peel them. Broil them on a slow fire and serve them on toast, with a little melted butter, into which add a little fine chopped parsely. (p. 257).

Sweet Pepper Salad (Franco-American Cookery 1884)    History

Take enough sweet green Spanish peppers; boil a minute so as to wipe off the skin; slice fine, put in a bowl; season with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar, and serve as cold as possible. (P. 301).

Peppers Stuffed with Force-Meat (50 Years in a Maryland Kitchen 1881)    History

Take some large mild peppers. Soak them a few days in salt and water, changing it constantly to make them less pungent. Cut out the vein that makes them so hot, and stuff t hem with a fine force-meat, made either with veal or chicken, seasoned with salt, butter, a knife drawn through an onion, and some parsley chopped up with the knife, some sweet herbs, such as are generally used in force-mat, and crumbs of bread. Stuff the peppers and fry them well in butter. Serve with a rich gravy. (P. 132)

Stuffed Bell Peppers, American Style (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Select one dozen nicely shaped Bell Peppers, slice off the tops and scoop out the seeds. Chop two onions finely and put them into a saucepan with a piece of butter. Fry them lightly and then add a handful of fine chopped mushrooms. Cover the sauce-pan, and when the moisture is reduced add four spoonfuls of reduced Allemande sauce, a handful of freshf nutmeg. Mix them well together, then take the saucepan off of the fire and add the yolks of two raw eggs and some finely chopped parsley, and stir them well together. Stuff the Peppers and arrange them in a buttered baking pan. Sprinkle fresh bread crumbs over them, put a piece of butter on each one, then bake them in a moderate oven, and when nicely browned serve them on a dish with a teaspoonful of veal gravy over each one. (P. 257).

Pepper Catsup (Southern Practical Cooking 1872)    History

Take any quantity of red or green pepper pods; slit the pods; boil in sufficient water to cover them. Stir and mash them while boiling; strain through a colander, then through a sieve. To Two quarts of this pulp, add one quart of vinegar, two or three garlic buttons minced fine, a small onion cut up, one tablespoonful of salt, one of cloves, the same of allspice. Boil one hour; if too thick, add more vinegar. The red pods make a beautiful red catsup. (Mrs. Hill p. 203).

Crystallized Soluble Cayenne Pepper (U. S. Practical Receipt Book 1844)    History

Take powdered cayenne, 1 pound; red sanders wood, 4 ounces; alcohol, 3 pounds Macerate with heat in a close vessel for a week, then strain and add common salt, 4 pounds. Evaporate in a vessel suitable for saving the alcohol; then take the dry powder and rub it through a coarse sieve. This is wholly soluble. The same alcohol will do for future operations. (P. 107).

Pepper Vinegar (Lady’s New Book of Cookery 1852)    History

Take 6 large red peppers, slit them up, and boil them in 3 pints of strong vinegar. Boil them down to 1 quart. Strain, and bottle it for use. It will keep for years. (Mrs. Hale p. 218)

Sharp Sauce (Practical Cook Book 1850)    History

Put into a stew-pan one tea-cup of vinegar and half a tea-cup of water, with a pinch of Cayenne pepper, a pinch of mustard, a little powdered thyme, and a little salt; when this boils, stir into it one table-spoonful of flour braided with two of butter; let the whole boil one minute, and serve. Sharpe sauce is very nice on lobsters and shrimps, and is by many considered a fine relish for venison. (Bliss p. 16)

Pepper Sauce (Cookery as it Should Be 1855)    History

Take twenty-five peppers, without the seeds, cut them pretty fine, then take more than double the quantity of cabbage, cut like slaw, one root of horseradish grated, a handful of salt, rather more than a tablespoonful of mustard-seed, a tablespoonful of cloves, the same of allspice, ground; simmer a sufficient quantity of vinegar to cover it, and pour over it, mixing it well through. (P. 263)

Cayenne Wine (U.S. Practical Receipt Book 1844)    History

Take cayenne pepper, 6 ounces; white wine, 1 gallon. Macerate for a week, and strain. (p. 107)