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Lancashire hot-pot gives way to chillies

August 31, 2011

It’s already famed for its hot-pot but now a different kind of heat is setting taste-buds alight in one corner of Lancashire.

For chilli grower Debbie Johnson, 53, really does have the fire in her belly when it comes to her business blooming.

Debbie, along with her husband Joe, 56, grow a whopping THREE TONNES of fresh chillies every week.

Responding to the nation’s ever growing appetite for spice they now have a dedicated four acre site to grow the bumper crops.

And Debbie’s chillies have become a favourite with supermarket giant Sainsbury’s who buy more than a weekly tonne of the firebrand fruit.

Debbie, from Southport, said: “We really are delighted that the British public seem to love the chillies just as much as we do.

“We have been growing them for fourteen years and we have seen the business grow and bloom.

“I think people are just so much more diverse now with their cooking and the market has been set on fire.

“We love the work we do here with chillies and we hope this year will be the best so far.

“Lancashire may seem the least likely place but we really have put chillies on the map here.”

Taste buds are clearly heating up across the nation as the demand for fresh chillies continues to grow.

Sansbury’s reported a 15 per cent rise and are now selling a variety of chillies across 450 stores ranging from 54p to £3.50 through July to September.

And Debbie and Joe are a major supplier to the supermarket as they harvest their three tonne weekly crop.

“It’s fair to say that chillies are my life,” smiled Debbie.

“We work 7 days a week to keep up with demand and it is wonderful to have a big store with a reputation like Sainsbury’s on board.

“Usually around half of our weekly crop goes to them and the rest is sold to smaller retailers in and around the region.

“We have several varieties of chillies we grow here ranging from jalapenos, fresno, serenade, Thai, Scotch Bonnet and we have expiremented this year with the incredibly hot Bhut-Jolika.

“We also sell chilli plants – currently we have sold 100,000 to Sainsbury’s so that customers can grow their own chillis.

“There’s nothing quite like picking your own chilli direct from the plant and cooking with it from scratch.”

Debbie and Joe work all year round to produce the chillies from their 5 acre farm.

The green houses are usually hot enough during summer but heated in Autumn and winter months.

They don’t use any pesticides and bumble bees are the natural pollenators of the plants which can grow up to seven feet tall.

So its this unlikely setting which really is firing up the nation’s taste buds in a region known previously for the more traditional fayre of hot pot.

Debbie added: “You could try and use a little of our chilli to the hot pot to spice things up a little.

“It really has been wonderful to see the market expand so much. These days chilli seems to be used so much more abundantly.

“You can hardly turn on a TV cooking programme without seeing them throwing chillies into the pan.

“It is quite a novelty that so many of our chillies are grown here. People expect them to have come from an exotic location.

“But no these chillies are Lancashire born and bred and that’s the way we love them.”

Julien Roberts, Chilli buyer at Sainsbury’s said: “As UK consumers become more accustomed to spicy food and experiment with cooking we’ve seen a significant sales increase in chillies.

“Working in partnership with our growers means we’re able to offer UK varieties, which highlights our commitment to sourcing quality British produce when in season.”