It looks like a tomato, but it’s a pepper. [Sadly, I could not find a photo I could use.]
Tomato peppers (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) were one of the first peppers grown by Europeans. Also known as the Hungarian, Kalman’s, Beaver Dam, and Hussli tomato pepper, this small heirloom variety was brought to Wisconsin in 1912 by the Hussli family from Hungary.
As hybrids took over the market, tomato peppers nearly became extinct. Until 2010, when one woman, Lee Greene, took it upon herself to rescue this meaty, flavorful pepper. There are now festivals held in its honor and seeds are readily available to anyone who wants to try their hand at growing tomato peppers. You can even find different varieties. One orange variety looks like a miniature pumpkin! Plants reach 2½ feet tall and are heavy producers.
The walls of tomato peppers are twice as thick as most peppers, with just a little heat, similar to a poblano. Glossy green peppers turn deep crimson when ripe. Like heirloom tomatoes, tomato peppers were not bred for shipping and storing. Instead, they have been grown for flavor and sweetness.
How to grow tomato peppers
Like most members of the nightshade family, tomato peppers need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day and a long growing season, with most temperatures above 80°F. You can start seeds indoors or in a protected space up to six weeks before your last frost date. Plant seeds only ¼” deep and mist the soil to keep it moist until seeds germinate, usually in a week or so. If you use a watering can or hose, all your seeds will end up smashed together in a corner of the pot, making transplanting more traumatic.
As your seedlings grow, you can up-pot them into larger containers. Once temperatures are above 60F, you can begin hardening them off. Prepare planting areas by digging in aged compost. These plants thrive in loose, nutrient-rich soil. You can also grow them in 5-gallon containers.
Tomato pepper problems
Aphids, armyworms, broad mites, Colorado potato beetles, hornworms, leaf-footed bugs, leaf miners, pepper weevils, stinkbugs, thrips, tomato pinworms, and whiteflies are common pests of tomato peppers. Common diseases include anthracnose, early blight, Fusarium wilt, gray mold, late blight, Septoria leaf spot, and Verticillium wilt. In many cases, proper plant spacing and the avoidance of overhead watering go a long way toward minimizing these problems.
Tomato peppers can be enjoyed raw, pickled, or cooked into sauces, soups, and stews, or in hot sauces and pepper jellies, Tomato peppers are also popular ingredients in a Louisiana dish called maque choux made with corn, peppers, onion, tomato and garlic. [I think I’m going to have to try that one—it sounds delicious!]
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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