Rocoto is one of the most interesting chillies to grow. It doesn’t suit everyone’s circumstances as it takes a long time to mature, and the plants grow huge. On the plus side, they are quite tough, resistant to diseases, infections and pests, and they tolerate cold more than almost any other variety. I think that to look at, they are one of the most stunning of chillies. On the plant they look like apples, hanging from a very thin curly stem. They grow to the size of small apples too, and whether they are red, yellow or orange, they look equally as impressive. Be prepared to let the plants grow to their full size, which can be 2m across and 1.5m high. You do this by giving them as big a pot and as much space as you can, large tubs or drums are better than plant pots. If you live in a region with mild winters they will live for years, and grown in the ground, will grow even bigger and form large shrubby bushes.
I don’t grow them every year, as they take up so much space, but I thought I’d give them a go this year and put some plants outside, always a gamble in the UK. They fruit more quickly in higher greenhouse temperatures, so I kept them inside for as long as I could, then the biggest plant was moved out of the greenhouse for July and August when it really got too big. It is in a big earthenware pot which gives it enough weight to stop it falling over and it has spread quite wide, probably 1.5m. When I moved it back into the greenhouse in September I pruned it to remove the longest stems. You don’t normally have to do this but it was that or leave it out in the cold.
It fruited well, and they developed nicely outdoors, even though the August weather wasn’t great. September was warm so it carried on prospering and the fruits started to ripen in October; this is from seeds planted at the beginning of March.
I also experimented with planting one outside in the vegetable patch. The hairy leaves and stems characteristic of Capsicum pubescens are a deterrent to slugs and snails so it has been largely untouched by pests. This is still looking healthy even at the end of October, and it is flowering well but it won’t bear ripe fruit I am sure. I will leave it there to see how it survives the winter.
One strange characteristic of the rocoto is its black seeds, which you instantly notice when you slice one open, this is quite natural. Be careful when chopping these, they are packed full of juice which seems to spray everywhere, all over your knife, hands, and chopping board, even in your eyes if you get too close.
I find the taste and heat of rocoto quite different to other chillies. If you eat a small piece the burn is instant, very fresh and permeates quickly, as though the capsaicin has been dissolved in alcohol which isnot a nice experience for me, a bit like taking a slug of chilli vodka. Even though these aren’t hugely hot, around 60,000 SHU, they seem to punch above their weight and I find an equivalent sized piece of habanero affects me more favourably, it burns my mouth, yes, but doesn’t overcome me so quickly.