Farmers Market Report: Melrose Peppers

They're very local

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By David Hammond

At the Oak Park Farmers' Market, you're going to find a lot of Melrose Peppers on offer. They grow very well in this area, and there's a reason for that.  Melrose Peppers are from this area, and I'm sure you can guess which town.

The seeds for Melrose Peppers, according to some, came from Italy and were transplanted in the Midwest, which is historically rather ironic as chili peppers originated on this continent.

The precise history behind these peppers is murky, and at the Taste of Melrose Park, a very worthy local event, I've had two different Italian families report to me that it was their grandparent, or great-grandparent, that first brought this pepper to the area. You can enjoy this pepper used as an ingredient in dishes from several of the families who attend this event to show off their favorite foods (usually Italian).

What is not in dispute, it seems, is that this pepper is as Chicago Italian-American as is Italian beef – and like this famous local sandwich, equally unknown outside the Midwest.

Whatever their history, these are nice little peppers and we've had a lot of luck with them in our garden.

Melrose Peppers are usually not very hot, which would explain their popularity in Italy, where "spicy" usually means just a hint of peppery heat. Like the French, the Italians are not big on capsaicin.

Melrose Peppers are also not very fleshy. If the flesh of a Bell Pepper is a 10, the flesh of a Melrose Pepper is around a 2. Their "meat" of this vegetable is very thin, almost leathery at times, which means that when cooking, it's probably best to use a moist preparation.

Although I've pan-fried sliced Melrose Peppers, they seem to do best in a sauce, where they're less likely to dry out when cooking (and these guys need all the moisture they can get).

Melrose peppers: they're very local and they're in season now.



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