To misquote Forrest Gump, sometimes a pack of chilli seeds is like a box of chocolates: you don't always know what you’re gonna get.
Most times, to be fair, it’s exactly what it says on the packet. But often enough, it’s not. The trouble is, all chilli seeds look pretty much the same, and it’s not difficult to see how a lapse of concentration when labelling and storing may lead to mishaps.
However, usually it’s Nature who’s to blame. This is because, unless kept under strictly controlled and sealed conditions, chillies are easy going on the cross-fertilisation front, and happily cross-pollinate with any chilli species – especially if you leave the process to the random exploits of passing insects. It won’t affect the first generation of fruits, but it will affect the seeds they produce: so the seeds from one year’s crop may create a plant with different fruits to those from which it came. And you won’t know for sure what you’ve got until the following generation appears.
This all matters if you depend on specific chillies for your sauces, as I do, and is why I cover my bases by growing several different varieties. Even so, it was a touch disappointing last year, for example, to realise that rather than the Scotch Bonnets I’d grown (from seed bought from a well-known and reputable company), I had a collection of absurdly sprawling Friars’ Hats taking up more than their fair share of room in the greenhouse, and bearing fruits so mild and tasteless they were unusable.
This year, again, it was with a great deal of curiosity and a small amount of anxiety that I awaited the mature plants’ first crop, ready to spot the cuckoos amongst them. And, true to form, there were a few surprises: a couple of the Chocolate Bhut Jolokias bear a striking resemblance to their cousin the Trinidad Scorpion, with letter-box red globular fruits rather than the burnished bronze droplets I was expecting; and who knows what the shiny golden fruit of a broad-leafed chinense is supposed to be, but it’s definitely not the crinkly red offspring of a Carolina Reaper that I thought I’d raised. Happily, however, these interlopers are all satisfyingly tasty and hellishly hot! Just the sort of surprise I like!
ABOVE LEFT: It said Chocolate Douglah on the packet...?
ABOVE RIGHT: A golden Reaper, perhaps?