Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print
It's Super Bowl Sunday, so naturally I'm planning next year's garden. If you think that's heresy, please try to understand my position:
I'm perfectly happy to hang out in the kitchen during the big game and emerge only for commercials and halftime. And while in the kitchen, I'm making chili with last year's homegrown peppers that I cleaned, sliced and froze and tomatoes that I froze whole in plastic zipper bags for occasions just like this.
If, like me, you can't quite understand the allure of watching overpaid grown men knock each other down in the quest for a ball, or even if you love the sport but also enjoy the garden (or chili!), it's a good day to shop online or browse catalogs for tomato and peppers to grow this summer and enjoy next year during Super Bowl XLIX.
The biggest tomato news this year is the release of the new "SteakHouse Hybrid" variety from Burpee. Billed as the "biggest tomato ever bred," this beauty is said to have true heirloom flavor and an irresistible fragrance, and can weigh up to four pounds. (Are you listening, 2014 Tomato Challengers?)
Franchi Sementi's "San Marzano 2," imported by Seeds From Italy, is the classic Italian plum tomato used in pasta sauce. Naturally, the meaty, 5- to 6-ounce fruit also would make a great addition to chili.
The 'Hungarian Heart' tomato from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds typically exceeds one pound and has firm, meaty flesh, ideal for sauce and chili. And Burpee's new "Summer Girl Hybrid," whose fruit is bigger and ripens earlier than other early varieties, also promises exceptional disease resistance.
Chili wouldn't be chili without peppers. Burpee's new "Hot Diablito" Thai pepper produces 2 1/2-inch-long "flamethrower" hot fruits, and -- for children or the weak of heart -- the "Born to be Mild" jalapeño hybrid has the flavor of a jalapeño without the heat. On the other hand, Baker Creek's new "Trinidad Scorpion" pepper, named the world's hottest chili by New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute, probably should be used with discretion. Also from Baker Creek, the "Poblano" produces 3- to 6-inch heart-shaped, mild-to-medium-heat peppers.
From John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, the "Big Jim Hot Chile" pepper, developed at New Mexico State in 1975, remains the largest of all the New Mexican pod-type peppers, growing up to a foot long and adding only mild heat. It is also great stuffed and in salsa.
After you've tackled the peppers and tomatoes, growing some beans would help you score a chili touchdown!