Archive for ‘Leyden Township’

August 21, 2013

The Local Beet

I would like to thank all who visit this site and tell everybody about another site that I blog at, The Local Beet. It is a Chicago Area site that has a lot of great info for those who live in the Chicago Region.

June 12, 2012

Chicago’s Melrose Pepper

Of the many varieties of pepper plants that you may see at garden centers, and even some big box retailers, in the Chicago Area, there is one with a local connection. Many people may not know that before the suburban area of Chicago was paved over, it had been one of the top fruit and vegetable growing regions of the United States. What the farmers of Chicagoland grew in those days included peppers. One of the varieties of peppers commonly grown was the Melrose pepper.

The ancestor of the Melrose pepper arrived in the Chicago Area possibly in the late 19th or very early 20th century. It was around this time that many Italian immigrants were buying farms in the Near Western Suburbs of Chicago from the German families that had originally settled the land. These new farmers began many of the truck farms that supplied South Water Market back in the day and include people like Tom Naples, who’s farm stand was for many years was a fixture on North Avenue, west of Chicago. These Italian farmers brought the seeds of their homeland and some became popular varieties, such as the Melrose pepper.

The original name of the Melrose pepper is obscure but its current name is derived from Melrose Park, a Chicago suburb with a historically large Italian population. As is the case with many things that are named after one’s hometown the Melrose gained, because of its name, notoriety and a following first in Melrose Park and surrounding area, then in the Chicago Area in general. Because of this pepper’s superior sweet taste its popularity in the Chicago Area has not ebbed and it now has a national following. The Chicago diaspora in places like Arizona, Florida, Texas, and California has also helped spread the popularity of this pepper far and wide.

Melrose peppers are about 4 to 6 inches in length and are tapered at the end like most frying peppers. These are sweet peppers that can be fried, roasted, or used in stir fries. They can also be stuffed with fresh Italian sausage or any other pepper stuffing.

This pepper is very easy to grow from seed and plants are available in some Chicago Area garden centers. In areas below zone 6, start the seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. They should sprout in about a week or so. Transplant to a well drained area that has been amended with compost and you should have peppers in about 60 days.

I have been growing Melrose peppers for many years and plan to grow a variety this year from seed sent to me by a man whose grandfather grew them in Melrose Park. Getting saved seed for what I grow in my garden gives me a feeling of being attached to history. If you cannot locate anybody with saved seed there are several sources such as: Baker Creek, and Sunrise Seeds