Tucked away from the cold inside a snug polytunnel on a South Gloucestershire hilltop, new seedlings are being cosseted, with heat blankets beneath their pots. Louise Duck has grown each from seed and will transplant them by hand into the warm raised beds that are waiting for them when they are a little bigger.
It is a lot of tender care for a plant that bites back, but then chillies are quickly becoming Britain’s latest food love affair. The British countryside and climate is hardly adapted to the cultivation of exotic fruits, but the rising numbers of farmers and amateurs who are now producing homegrown chillies bears testament to their rapidly growing appeal. Long found on “world” food aisles, chillies are now to be found in products from beer and cider to chocolate, ice-cream and hot cross buns, while British-produced chilli jams and chilli sauces are moving out of the farmers’ markets and becoming online bestsellers.
This summer there will be a proliferation of chilli festivals springing up, from Perth to Birmingham to Brighton, and also here at the Upton Cheyney Chilli Company on Manor Farm, in the Cotswolds between Bath and Bristol.
Last year about 4,000 people made the pilgrimage to the festival at the 17th-century farm with its little shop, where Louise and her husband, Alex, sell their homemade chilli sauces, chilli jams, chilli hams and sausages. Megalodon, one of their sauces named after an extinct and vicious shark, has its own Facebook appreciation page set up by fans. They have opened a campsite to cope with interest in chilli farming and are hosting weddings in the ancient tithe barn. “Chillies do make people smile, it’s all those endorphins