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The History of Bell Peppers

Sometimes called Sweet Peppers, Capsicum , and Paprika

Food historian Karen Hess observed:

Edward Lewis Sturtevant

Are bell peppers a fruit, vegetable or what? .....

They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Bell's are sweet and plump vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity.

How old is are bell peppers? ....

Something like the bell pepper and hot peppers have been cultivated for more than 9000 years, with the earliest cultivation having taken place in South and Central American civilizations. The earliest fossil traces so far are from southwestern Ecuador, where families grew their own peppers about 6,100 years ago. Read More

So When did we start hearing about Bell Peppers ....

"Bell pepper is a large, flesh mild green pepper, turning into red or gold when fully ripe. Sturtevant cites Lionel Wafer in 1699, who mentions Bell-pepper and Bird-pepper as growing in the Ithsmus of America, and Edward Long in 1774, who lists nine varieties of Capsicum as being under cultivation in Jamaica; of these, "the Bell is esteemed most proper for pickling," Sturtevant repeats. Among numerous references to Capsicum by Jefferson, one unmistakably refers to bell pepper, seeds of which were sent from Mexico in 1824: 'Large Pepper, a good salad the seeds being removed."

So the term "Bell Pepper" goes back at least to the late 1600's where the"pirate" and ship's surgeon Lionel Wafer wrote about them in the book " A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America that was in the Caribean..

Origin of name

The word pepper comes from the Greek word pipari (pee-PAIR-ree) which means the black spice...but a bell pepper is green, or red or orange etc...

When the Goths sacked rome in 410 AD among their demands were 5,000 pounds of gold and 3,000 pounds of black pepper. In the middle ages debts and dowries were paid with pepper corns.

Columbus searching for the scarce and valuable black pepper in the Caribean. Instead he found these spicy fruit or as we call it a vegetable.. Since pepper was a term that was extended to other hot spicy ingredients the hot peppers the explorer brought back fit right in. Except the bell pepper wasn't hot but still looked a lot like the other hot peppers, but had the shape of a bell.

Is it the same variety as a spicy chili pepper?

While the bell pepper is a member of the Capsicum amus genus like the hot chili peppers, it is the only variety that doesn't produce any capsaicin, which is the compound that is the heat in chili peppers.

So do bell peppers turn different shades of color as they ripen....
All of the bell pepper varieies start green and turn to red or yellow or orange etc. It is the same variety but each of the colors (besides green) is a different cultivar. Read more about cultivars.

Packages of 3 bell peppers , green, yellow and red are sometimes sold as "Traffic Light Peppers"

Bell peppers are used in almost every aspect of cooking you can think of,
one of the more famous dishes highlighting the bell pepper is ...

Stuffed Bell Peppers
Just by looking at bell pepper you can tell it was destined for stuffing. The sharp pungent flavor mellows with the meat, sauce and rice.

Here is an old one from The Origional Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Merrit Farmer

[1896: Boston]
"Stuffed Peppers I
6 green peppers
3/4 cup hot steamed rice
1/2 cup cold cooked meat cut in small dice
1/3 cup tomatoes stewed and strained
1 tablespoon melted butter
Few drips onion juice
Salt and pepper.
Cut off pieces from stem ends of peppers. Remove seeds and partitions; parboil eight minutes. Fill with rice, meat, tomatoes, and butter, well mixed, and seasoned with onion juice, salt, and pepper. Place in a pan, add one and one-half cups water or stock, and bake forty-five minutes in a moderate oven.

"Stuffed Peppers II Prepare peppers as for Stuffed Peppers I. Fill with equal parts of finely chopped cold cooked chicken or veal, and softened bread crumbs, seasoned with onion juice, salt and pepper."
--- Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book , Fannie Merritt Farmer, facsimile 1896 edition [Weathervane Books:New York] 1973 (p. 267-268)

Here is a 19 th century recipe for a pickled bell pepper
from "Miss Parloa's New Cookbook" in 1880

Stuffed Peppers. (Pickled)
Get large bell peppers. Cut around the stem, remove it, and take out all the seeds. For the stuffing use two quarts of chopped cabbage, a cupful of white mustard seed, three table-spoonfuls of celery seed, two table-spoonfuls of salt, half a cupful of grated horse-radish. Fill each pepper with a part of this mixture, and into each one put a small onion and a little cucumber. Tie the stem on again and put the peppers in a jar, and cover with cold vinegar."
---Miss Parloa's New Cook Book, Maria Parloa [Estes and Luariat:Boston] 1880, 1886 (p. 344)

Joy of Cooking
1946 reprint

This was my mom's go to cookbook for nearly everything.

It is interesting that they used the term "Pepper Cases"

What interesting things you an stuff a pepper with Creamed Celery, Mashed Potatoes, or Creamed Spinach.

The author feels that maybe you should always have some peppers
on hand to use up left overs.

Here is the recipe that seems to be the most popular down through the century
and into the new one still.

The Bell Pepper was a perfect way to sell canned Corned Beef Hash

This is a mid century ad for Armour Hash



Probably the most popular filling for Stuffed peppers has been a combination of ground beef and rice.
Here is a recipe from Betty Crocker

Modern recipe Lo Carb

Stuffed Peppers with Ground Turkey and Cauliflower Rice

Here is one that brings us into the age of lo carb dinners. The rule of thumb for many is to eat your carbs in the morning and hold off in the eve. Also a leaner ground turkey seems to be replacing ground beef in popularity.

Here is the recipe with pictures
Stuffed Peppers with Ground Turkey and Cauliflower Rice


Thank you too

Eat the Weeds


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