Saudi Aramco World: March/April 2014 - page 11

March/April 2014
9
said that capsicum
pepper was first used by Hungarian
peasants, herdsmen and fisherman, who would have had close
links to the Ottoman commissariat.
Not everyone loved capsicums when they were first
introduced. The Spanish, who had brought them in the first
place, only grew them as garden ornamentals. Italy and even
Portugal did not take to them wholeheartedly either. European
monastery gardens seemed to have had the most interest
in propagating them in the early part of the 16th century.
Northern European countries were indifferent to them save as
a curiosity—although they were growing in Germany by 1542,
probably thanks to Ottoman traders, who got yew wood for
their bows, among other products, from Germany.
In fact, capsicum peppers did not become a popular
culinary item in much of Europe for hundreds of years. Food
historian Ken Albala proffered a theory for this when he wrote
that “merchants had compelling reasons to maintain their
trade in black pepper to the east. And thus they don’t mention,
let alone carry, chilies. Nor do they appear in European
cookbooks until the end of the 17th century.” Of course, this
doesn’t mean they weren’t being eaten by the lower classes, for
culinary historians agree that there was precious little written
of peasant cooking or gardening during that time.
For that reason, it is difficult to pin down the early impact
of peppers. Records of pepper crops are virtually non-existent.
Andrews felt they were ignored because capsicum peppers were
considered “garden crops” both in European estate ledgers
and in the Ottoman Empire’s scrupulous records, and as such
were neither taxed nor recorded. But it’s not much of a stretch
to assume that capsicum peppers tagged along with corn and
New World beans—valuable crops that were recorded—and
were traded by sailors who were given them as their voyage-
portion while their masters dealt in vastly more valuable black
pepper and other commodities.
Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East—Mara
û
, Urfa and Aleppo, shown
below
in their flaked form—are used in
dishes throughout the region.
Right:
Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.
Howdo peppers break down inworld cuisines? India uses
Capsicumannuum
and
Capsicum frutescens
or
chinense.
(The hottest peppers, like the famous
“ghost pepper,” are mostly
Capsicumchinenense
or
frutescens
). The Turks use
Capsicumannuum,
and in some localities sun-dry them and then cover and
“sweat” them at night. China has
Capsicumannuum
and
chinense
. Korea uses
Capsicumannuum,
and Hungary uses manyvarieties of
Capsicumannuum
tomake its famous range of paprikas. African chiles are mostly
Capsicum
annuum,
but all are available on that continent. Morocco has a great
variety of peppers, but most are
Capsicumannuum
varieties.
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