Bells speak to so many: Sgt. Pepper, Quasimodo, Peter Piper, not to mention the faithful. Clearly they must speak to our farmers, for the market is brimming with these gorgeously colored fruits. Yes, like their cousins the tomato and eggplant, the bell pepper is a fruit that is generally treated as a vegetable. Including their underground cousin this time, the potato, the tomato, the eggplant and the bell pepper are members of the American nightshade family. Unlike members of their more immediate family, capsicum or chilies, these bell beauties are mild in flavor. All of the capsicum clan originated in the Americas but have been widely appreciated and adopted worldwide.
In the late 15th C, the European competiton for control of the spice trade was fierce, even war worthy. Asian spices were frequently bartered for the equivalent weight in gold. This was a key factor in the Spanish court’s willingness to fund Columbus’ exploration. Accordingly, one story has it that, finding capsicum, Columbus brought the fruit to Europe and dubbed it the pepper to promote its desirability and to convince the skeptical that he had indeed found the Far East.
The bell pepper is sometimes called the Christmas ornament pepper, presumably a reflection of its glossy vibrant colors. It’s available in shades of green, orange, red, yellow, purple, brown and white. Decorative as they are, they are a brilliant table centerpiece and one low enough to be seen over.
Capsaicin, an extraction, was a critical element in the medicines of the Native American, one that is only now being adapted in Western medicine to topically treat circulatory issues and to provide pain relief. The red variety contains lycopene, thought to be a factor in reducing the risk of prostate, cervix, bladder and pancreatic cancers. Recent studies have identified the red variety as potentially providing protection against cataracts and rheumatoid arthritis.
In previous columns we have offered recipes for Peperonata and for Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup which may be found on the website. This week we’re turning to a salad to display the beatuy and the flavor of the bell pepper with Peppers, Jicama and Citrus Salad. Spice up your table!