Each year I try to plant a few new varieties of vegetables and one new heritage seed packet I ordered this past winter was the Hungarian black pepper. This is an interesting variety of pepper, which originated in Eastern Europe in the modern day city of Kiskenfelegyhaza in Hungary. I had very good success growing this vegetable in my garden and in containers on my deck and will probably grow it again next year.
I started the Hungarian black pepper seeds indoors in cardboard egg cartons in mid February. When they reached five inches, I moved them to bigger containers and transplanted them into my garden and in large flowerpots in mid April. Although you should wait until after the last frost, I planted them early, keeping them protected by covering them with one gallon plastic milk jugs (which act as mini greenhouses), and putting the milk jug cap on at night when there was a frost prediction (I would remove the caps in the morning).
The Hungarian black pepper likes a warm sun and organic-enriched warm soil. They need some room to spread out, so plant them 18 to 24 inches apart in rows at least two feet part. As the plant grows, remove the first blossoms, as this will help establish a deep healthy root system allowing the plant to have good support for its fruit. The small blossoms are a gorgeous purple and the foliage is lush green with deep purple veins. Even if you do not like peppers, this plant’s blossoms are so gorgeous they are a great addition to any flower garden. The plant matures in about 70 to 80 days, grows from 30 to 36 inches tall and the fruit is two to four inches long. The peppers I had that were two inches long were growing in my containers, but the ones in my garden got up to four inches long.
The fruit of the Hungarian black pepper is unique, being similar in shape to Jalapenos with pointed ends. The young tender peppers emerge from the purple flowers a rich green color and then turn to black. They stay black for a long time and then suddenly turn to a bright red color. It seemed I would see a black pepper on a plant and the next day it would be red, having turned overnight. The fruit has a mildly hot flavor. I found that if picked them early, before they fully matured, they were not hot, but had a sweeter taste.
Known pests and diseases of the Hungarian black pepper are cutworms, aphids, flea beetles, tomato hornworms, wilt and bacterial leaf spot. To keep cutworms at bay, I use cottage cheese containers (with both ends open) around each plant. For the aphids, I plant petunias and marigolds. To fight diseases, I allow good air circulation between my plants, add nutrients to the soil, discard dead leaves, and rotate my crops.
Hungarian black peppers are great for fresh salsa, pickling, and drying, but I prefer them thinly sliced and spread on top of a salad full of Romaine lettuce.
Sources: Personal Experience, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.seedfeast.co.uk