Chile pequin, also known as Chile petin and also spelled 'chili petin,' is a hot and spicy pepper from Mexico that has moved into South and Central Texas. A relative to the jalapeno, the state pepper of Texas, chile pequin is the official state native pepper.

These tiny peppers rank 40,000 to 60,000 on the Scoville scale, created and used to determine the spicy heat of peppers, equivalent to a nine of 10 on a heat scale - and that's very, very hot.

A favorite of birds

Chile pequin, which is roughly translated as "tiny," is sometimes called the bird pepper. The peppers are a favorite of many species because birds don't feel the effects of the fiery taste as mammals do. They enjoy the fruity flavor beneath the heat. Birds often make deposits of this pepper in nature. Bird droppings are often the reason why some plants come up wild and grow in pastures and landscapes.

While it is said these peppers are deer-resistant, deer have been known to eat any and every thing when they're hungry, including these hot peppers.

Uses in recipes

Mexican dishes are one of my favorite cuisines. Most people associate Mexican food as hot and spicy with jalapenos. Because of their heat, it only takes a very few Chile pequins to give your homemade hot sauces, salsas and garnishes a pretty powerful kick.

To my surprise, chile pequin can be made into a sweet jelly, mixed with a little hint of fire. A couple of years ago, my daughter asked John Welder, owner of Alimento Catering in Victoria, to cater the dinner for her wedding. Diana Trevino, manager, made a chile pequin jelly, which was served over a juicy beef tenderloin, and it was the talk of all the guests. They were amazed to learn it was made with one of the hottest peppers known.

Growing tips

Chile pequin, capsicum annuum 'aviculare', is easily started from seed in warm weather or may be found in your local nurseries that specialize in native plants. The bush usually grows about 2 feet high and 3 feet across.

Prefers partial shade

This little Texas gem surprisingly does not do well in our full Texas sun but likes to be partially shaded by larger plants. Once the bush is established, it is drought resistant although it shows some wilt in really dry conditions.

Needs water on regular basis

Remember to water your bush about 1 to 2 inches a week on a regular basis. Be careful not to overwater or let the soil become soggy. Mulching around the base of the bush will help keep the soil evenly moist. A light application of high nitrogen fertilizer is recommended about four and eight weeks after your plant has been transplanted into your garden.

White blooms appear before peppers

Attractive tiny white flowers appear first, fall off and then peppers appear. When the peppers are young and green, they are the hottest and lose a little of the heat when they turn their brilliant red. You may have seen the shrub with solid dark green leaves as well as a variegated leaf variety.

Green vs. red peppers

The green fruits are usually sold fresh and for shelf longevity; the red ones can be frozen or hydrated and crushed to be used in your favorite dishes any time.

Enjoy Texas' tiny red gem

If you want to add a little color to your garden, try planting a chile pequin pepper bush. You will enjoy the beautiful green and bright red fruits growing in your garden and then the hot earthy flavor that has a hint of smoky, roasted peanuts and citrus at your table.

And while you're thinking "hot," get out of the summer heat and attend the Master Gardener Summer Symposium from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 23. Come learn about the Texas Superstar program, do-it-yourself landscaping design, chilli thrips (newest invasive Gulf Coast pest) and propagating roses with Coco Coir. Look for more information in upcoming articles.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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