Chili plant


BRUTAL BITES: The chili plant can take a lot of abuse.

Masochistic mastication

Why do we torture ourselves? I don’t mean that we prise secret information from ourselves Jack Bauer-style to prevent total nuclear devastation in the next 120 seconds. I’m thinking more about the things we do to our own bodies because we “enjoy” them.

By the way, anyone not familiar with Mr Bauer obviously doesn’t watch the TV series 24, in which this Jack Bauer bloke goes around shouting at people either before or after he tortures or shoots them in the name of saving the world. Cracking stuff.

Back to this self torture thing – tattoos are a case in point. Why would any rational person want some dodgy, long-bearded hippie-type to jab a needle into his skin several hundred times per second? Even worse, this torturous procedure is etched forever into their epidermis. Not for me, thanks.

They do that bizarre, body-piercing thing, too. I don’t really understand why anyone would feel the need to have large chunks of metalwork inserted into various body protrusions. I understand that a gentleman’s most treasured possession isn’t immune from this process. I’m fairly sure I’m not the only chap whose eyes water at the thought of body modification down there.

What about that weird thing we do in front of the TV? We stare blankly at it, despite the inanity level of whatever happens to be on it. We even complain about how “this program is complete rubbish”, but somehow the effort of reaching for the remote and pressing that red button in the corner is just a little too much. We would rather put ourselves through the anguish of watching this nonsense, then whine about it afterward.

Most readers of this publication have probably been in a plane at some stage in their lives. I would bet that the vast majority have spent well over half a day stuck in the same seat flying from elsewhere on the globe. We get bored stiff sitting there for so long.

That’s probably why we consume the contents of those silly little foil tray without batting an eyelid. The stuff in them is usually totally unidentifiable; I’m convinced the only reason they hand out those menus after you get in the air is so that you at least have a vague idea of what’s sliding down your throat.

More often than not, you wouldn’t touch this so-called “food” with a 10-foot bargepole; it’s nasty. We nevertheless commit senseless acts of cruelty on our taste buds every time we fly – yet another way we find to torture ourselves. You’ve probably guessed that I don’t fly business class particularly often.

There’s one form of food prevalent in this part of the world that’s probably more responsible for acts of self torture than any other – the chili. This one I rather enjoy, in a perverse sort of way. Why is it that I can have tears rolling down my cheeks and still want to shovel another spoonful of the stuff into my mouth? Utter madness.

The chili plant, or phrik in Thai, I presume, is ludicrously easy to grow. In fact I reckon that the average Thai home has more chili plants in it that have started by accident than ones they’ve deliberately planted – they appear without warning.

There are probably only a couple of things you need to remember in order to keep them alive: Water them regularly and keep them in a well-lit place. Chili plants are fairly robust and can take plenty of abuse – in fact given what they do to us, they probably deserve it – but if you look after them well, they’ll grow even better.

The first step to growing a chili plant is obviously the germination of the seed. Shallow plastic containers are perfect. Put a soggy mass of paper towels about a dozen thick in the bottom, put the seeds on this about a couple of centimeters apart, then lay another paper towel over the top, sandwiching the seeds between them. The towels should be wet, but not quite so everything is underwater; just enough to be soggy. After a few days to two weeks, the seeds will inevitably start to do their thing.

Once they’ve germinated, transfer the seedlings to either compost-filled seedling trays (a bit like plastic egg containers) or small black plastic bags with holes in them, half a centimeter below the surface. Make sure the root points downward, by the way.

After a few more days the seedlings will slowly appear from the soil and start to develop leaves. You can keep letting these grow, but if you’re not careful you will get tall, leggy plants that will give you limited fruit output.

That’s where pinching comes in, which is done to make the plants grow bushy. When a stem gets a few sets of leaves on it, you should pinch off the tips of the sets. Don’t just remove the leaves at the ends – you need to get the stem too.

The theory behind pinching is survival. If a plant has lost the end of a stem, presumably something ate it or something else got in the way. If it just keeps growing in that direction, then whatever cut off the stem is likely to do it again, so the plant starts growing stems from the leaf joints along the stem; developing sideways to hopefully avoid the danger that chopped off the original. Who said plants were thick.

Eventually, if you do this every couple of weeks, the whole plant will grow fairly bushy and end up with lots of spots for fruit to grow from. And yes, a chili is a fruit. Initially you’ll probably be a bit worried that you’re slowing down the plant growth, but you will end up with a more productive plant – honestly.

As we don’t exactly live in the most temperate of climates, they’ll probably need watering every day for most of the year if they end up in a pot. Water the soil until damp, rather than wet.

Once your plant is up and running, wait for the little white flowers to appear. After a week or two, the flowers will wilt and die off and a chili will gradually take its place. They’ll take another couple of weeks to grow and can be left on the plant for as long as you like; they’re even good when they start to shrivel a bit.

Chili plants, or more specifically the fruit they produce, are insane things. And we’re probably the only creatures on the planet daft enough to actually want to eat them. Actually, this could be an added bonus for a tattoo-lover. Long-bearded hippie-types with needles and Tabasco sauce would be even more painful than daytime TV. But only just.



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