OK I will hands up admit it…I am a sucker for chillies. I recently moved house and transported 6 pots of chillies as they were still growing and my Christmas tree this year will be a red habanero. I especially love unusual chillis so when I saw this purple one, Buena Mulata, I just had to give it a go, especially when I heard its history.
When I began to thaw out my grandfather’s seed collection back in the 1960s, many heirloom treasures emerged from the dark depths of the freezer where they had been stored. One of the best known peppers I discovered was the popular Fish Pepper, which is now offered by many seed companies, including Baker Creek. Most of the rare peppers my grandfather collected were given to him by his friend, an African-American folk artist, Horace Pippin. Mr. Pippin visited my grandfather’s West Chester, Pennsylvania, garden often, and the story about how he traded seeds for bee stings (my grandfather had bee hives) is described in my book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. However, the Fish Pepper was not the only pepper I retrieved from obscurity, for many years I have been maintaining several other Pippen varieties with equally fascinating histories. One of them is the Buena Mulata. According to my grandfather’s annotation on the seed jar label, he received the pepper from Horace Pippin in 1944.
For those of you who don’t know, Horace Pippin was a self taught American artist from the 1920’s who picked up painting after being badly injured in WW1 who works, including the one below (Which is in the Brandywine River Museum) now sell for millions. He also apparently saved chilli seeds.
The bad news if you are in Europe, no commercial grower that I can see sells it. However you can import from the USA and in the UK can at the time of writing purchase 5 seed packets without needing a licence. For those in other countries you would need to check local rules.
In the Kitchen
Buena mulata changes from a vibrant purple to a hazy orange to deep red as it matures. As it gets older it will be slightly sweeter and certainly sweeter than a cayenne at the same stage of maturity. It is a medium heat chilli up to 60k on the Scoville rating which puts it in the same ballpark as cayenne. It’s flavour is not outstanding compared to say a habanero but grow it for it’s colour and interesting story.
Yield and plant health
This was my first chilli to fruit this year ahead of all the others by at least three weeks so if you can’t wait to get your capsicum hit each year this is a good one. I got around 30 chillies from one bush but could have had more if I had pinched them out at the beginning and they continue to produce well after the first flush. The plant is robust and needs little support.
Chillies and peppers need a heated propagator to get going, with a steady heat of 27-30 degrees for a minimum of two weeks, but occasionally up to twelve for super hots to germinate.
In Jan/Feb, make a mix of 2/3 seed compost to 1/3 perlite. Sow a few seeds in to a three inch pot and cover with 5 mm of either the seed mix or vermiculite. Label and place in the propagator. Water sparingly (misting the surface can be ideal) until germinated.
Once germinated and you can see the first set of true leaves, gently pot on in to three inch pots in a good free draining compost and keep in a sunny spot, with a minimum temperature of 12 degrees C. If you are able to grow under LED grow lights then your plants will be stockier and more robust. Blowing on them them gently everyday will also encourage that, stimulating wind.
Water sparingly until they are 3-6 inches high when you can pot on in to 9 inch pots or, if passed the risk of frost, plant in greenhouse soil or in a sunny, sheltered position outside. Feed and water once a week.
Chillies can take varying times to start flowering. Padron peppers are very early, habanero can take 100 days. If you are growing inside you will need to fertilise the flowers yourself with a small brush. If growing in a greenhouse or conservatory ventilate well on hot days as temperatures over 36 degrees can lead to flowers dropping off.