Sunday 8 October 2017

Challock Chilli Fest

Every year at about this time we go down to Challock (near Ashford) in Kent for the Chilli Fest at Victoriana Nursery Gardens. This year is the fourth time we have been, and I can safely say that the show gets better every time.

NuMex "Chinese New Year" - they really do look like Chinese firecrackers!

Stephen, who owns and runs the Nursery is one of those people who really learns from his experience and makes improvements year-on-year. This year the introduction of a big marquee to host the chilli-tasting tables, and a covered seating area for food-consumption was a big success. We attended the show on the Sunday, and the weather was pretty good for October, but the previous day there had been a fair bit of rain, so the extra protection was most welcome.

A part of the chilli-tasting marquee, with Stephen and team on hand to provide advice if required

This year was also the first time that an entrance fee has been charged. It was a modest £2.50 per person, and I know that much of this will go to Stephen's favourite charity, the Mission To Seafarers. I'm presuming that the balance will be used to offset some of the costs of hosting the show, which must be considerable. I don't begrudge paying this fee; I think it is very reasonable, and in stark contrast to some of the extortionate fees charged by some higher-profile events. The expert advice given by the whole team is worth the £2.50 on its own!

Despite the presence of a whole host of stalls selling various chilli-themed merchandise and food-and-drink, the main attraction of the Challock Chilli Fest is without a doubt the chillis themselves. Many other chilli festivals are aimed at what I call the chilli-consumers, whereas this one is aimed at chilli-growers. I have only a slight interest in bottled chilli sauces, but I love to be able to see and closely examine all the chilli plants on display, along with their fruits - which again you can see, handle and taste if you want to. You can buy chilli fruits (sold individually), grown on the actual plants that you see; you can buy packets of seeds, and you can buy fully-grown chilli plants too. (Most of these were in 12-litre pots and sold for about £20).

Along with most other chilli fans, I'm always on the lookout for something new, and there were plenty to choose from this year, including several new varieties from the Chilli Pepper Institute of New Mexico - like the NuMex Chinese New Year seen in my first photo, and this beautiful NuMex Veteran's Day:

NuMex Veteran's Day

I was also very taken by NuMex Lemon Spice and its cousins NuMex Pumpkin Spice and NuMex Orange Spice. The Lemon one was nicely citrusy, but the orange one is much hotter.

NuMex Lemon Spice

NuMex Pumpkin Spice

I was also very gratified to see that Stephen had grown a couple of specimens of the chilli I nicknamed "Cozumel". These came from seeds extracted from some dried chillis I bought while on holiday in Cozumel, Mexico, and I gave Stephen some seeds to try last year. Although (with the benefit of a polytunnel), both of his plants were much bigger than the two I grew, one of them is absolutely enormous! I think it is about eight feet tall - almost a tree.

The big "Cozumel"

Ripe fruit on the smaller "Cozumel" plant.

I have no idea of the true identity of this "Cozumel" chilli, though I do think it looks a bit reminiscent of the one seen a lot in Italy and simply called "Peperoncino". It has the same characteristic blunt tip and longitudinal ridges.

When I am in the polytunnel at Victoriana, I'm like the archetypical kid in a sweet-shop, and I tend to snap off photos left right and centre, without necessarily remembering which chillis I have photographed! Here are a few of my photos from today:

I think this might be "NuMex Suave Orange". Most people would call this a heavy cropper...

Is this perhaps "NuMex Big Jim"?

I got the label in-shot for this one!

Thai "Bird Chilli" (seeds from another of Stephen's friends)

See previous photo!

This one looks rather like a Jalapeno (note the "crackling")

I know this beautiful one. It's "Cheiro Roxa"

I think I can safely say that if (in the unlikely event that) my enthusiasm for chillis had been flagging at all, a visit to the Challock Chilli Fest would have revived it in no uncertain terms!


  1. A really colourful display I can see the attraction of growing them

  2. The beauty of peppers plants are unequalled. I often grow them only for their colours.


  3. Those small yellow chillies look very similar to our Snack Bite sweet peppers. You wouldn’t want to get them mixed up would you?. Some of those plants would make beautiful house plants even if you didn’t want to harvest the chillies,

  4. I can't believe the number of peppers on some of those plants - amazing!


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