I will never forget it...
It was the summer of 2009 at Gaining Ground Farm in Yamhill, Oregon. Mike Paine, the farm's owner and Sensei toiled away in the kitchen while we farm apprentices lay scattered around his living room in various postures of exhaustion after a day of sweat and labor in the fields. Dizzying aromas wafted from the kitchen. As usual, we waited to unceremoniously devour whatever was produced. Mike walked over with a plate of small, blackened... somethings, dripping in olive oil, and popped one into each of our mouths.
I rolled the tender treasure over my tongue, savoring the flakes of sea salt that dissolved in the hot, olive oil. I bit into something that instantly transported me somewhere far away. There came an ethereal smokiness, and then a lurking heat and spiciness emerged, but never quite arrived. I was utterly won over, and the object of my affection had a name:
I think Padróns were my first vegetable love. Not the general love of a freshly picked tomato, or the appreciation of "home grown carrots" vs. store bought carrots (though these are special too) but the singular kind of love that comes from a flavor totally unique in the world. Since that first taste, I have grown Padróns every summer, and will continue to do so, 'til death do us part.
And even though these transcendent moments with our food can make us feel like they evolved, and were grown for us alone, we know it isn't true. Even as you read this, we are less alone, me and Padrón. And that's the point after all. That's what makes planting, growing, tending, harvesting, cooking, eating food so amazing. It is intimate and it is shared. What a gift.
So who is your Padrón? Do tell.
And if I have captured your imagination just enough, here is some information to help you grow your own!!
Padrón Peppers, or "Pemento de Padrón," originate from Galicia, in Northwestern Spain, and they bear the name of a municipality in the province of A Coruña. These unique peppers have been widely disseminated and have become quite popular in the last ten years among chefs in the United States.
These peppers are especially beloved by farmers and gardeners because they are extremely early and highly productive! Unlike many bell and sweet peppers which produce one fruit set, Padróns (somewhat like cherry tomatoes) continue to flower and produce new fruits over a long period of time. So what's not to love about them?
I generally plant my Padróns when I plant the rest of my peppers. In our Willamette Valley climate this is usually between May 1st and May 15th, depending on the weather. My appetite for Padrón's is insatiable and I usually plant 5-6 plants although just a couple of plants will give a generous harvest. Peppers, like all solanaceous vegetables, are fairly heavy feeders and I generally add some supplemental organic fertilizer at the time of planting. If you have low soil fertility, consider a second application of organic fertilizer when your plants begin to set flowers.
Peppers require even watering throughout their growth. Too much water can lead to poor fruit production and fungal issues, while underwatering can cause stunted growth, fruit ejection, and a host of other issues.
Padróns should be harvested when they are 2-4" in length. If left on the plant, fruits will grow much larger and reach up to 8" in length. These fruits however have very tough skin and are often extremely spicy!! Smaller fruits are more tender, palatable, and have a manageable heat. Even when harvested small, one in ten or so fruits have a mysterious habit of being surprisingly spicy! This is part of the fun, as far as I am concerned and only adds to the mystique and intrigue.
Padróns should not be eaten raw. In fact, if you taste a raw Padrón, you will likely think I am a crazy person for singing their praises, but when cooked, and cooked well, they are completely transformed. It's alchemy as far as I can tell. The best part is that preparing Padróns couldn't be easier!
Blackened Salty Smoky Blistered Padrón Recipe
Whole Padron Peppers 2-4" length
1. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Let it get goooood and hot.
2. Drop whole Padróns onto dry skillet, let them crackle and blister turning and agitating every 30 seconds.
3. Once Padróns are mostly blackened, add 1 tablespoon of water to hot pan and cover for 30 seconds.
4. Remove Padróns to plate and drizzle with olive oil and coarse sea salt
5. Devour, repeat.
...If you don't believe how easy this is, just ask the folks at Bon Appétit. They have even less ingredients than I have included here (And they are notorious for making things complicated).
Origin: Galicia, Northwestern Spain
Why Grow 'Em?: Easy to grow, early to mature, highly productive, scrumptious
Growing Padrons: Transplant May 1st - May 15th, even watering, fertilize w/ organic fertilizer at time of planting and at flower set
Harvesting Padrons: Harvest 2-4" long fruits
Cooking Padrons: Medium-High dry heat til blackened and shriveled, finish with olive oil and coarse sea salt
Well there you have it. If you didn't plant Padrón Peppers in your garden this year, not to worry. You will not find Padróns at the grocery store, but you will find them at a good farmers market. So look around, ask around, and don't miss this unique, delicious, and beloved pepper!!
- Ian Wilson
Owner, Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC