The New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Breeding and Genetics Program announces the release of ‘NuMex Heritage Big Jim’ chile pepper (Capsicum annuum L.). ‘NuMex Heritage Big Jim’ is an open-pollinated, improved, New Mexican pod-type cultivar. The name was chosen to distinguish the newly selected cultivar from the original cultivar, NuMex Big Jim, while retaining its association. ‘NuMex Heritage Big Jim’ has superior flavor, a uniform and higher heat level, greater plant and pod uniformity, and higher yield as compared with the current commercially available ‘NuMex Big Jim’ chile pepper.
There is a renewed interest in heirloom vegetables in the United States because of the variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and, most importantly, the flavor they provide (Creasy, 1999; McLaughlin, 2010). There is no official definition for what constitutes an heirloom vegetable. Most sources agree that heirloom cultivars, also called heritage or vintage cultivars, should be open-pollinated and have a well-established history (Harris, 2007; Iannotti, 2012). One such heirloom legacy is ‘NuMex Big Jim’. The New Mexican-type chile pepper cultivar, NuMex Big Jim, was released by New Mexico State University in 1975 (Nakayama, 1975). It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as producing the world’s largest pepper pod at 33.75 cm (13.5 inches) long (Coon et al., 2008). Because of the large pods, the cultivar is a favorite of home gardeners and chefs for making chile relleno, a stuffed chile pepper pod.
Changes have occurred to the original ‘NuMex Big Jim’ that includes yield, maturity date, plant habit, and fruit characteristics. Growers state that ‘NuMex Big Jim’ fruit is much milder than it was in the past. Also, when released in 1975, one of the complaints about the original ‘NuMex Big Jim’ was that the heat level (pungency) varied greatly from one plant to the next. It has been reported that ‘California Wonder’, another heirloom cultivar, is so variable that is should not be used as a control in experiments (Votava and Bosland, 2002). Selection within an heirloom cultivar to recreate as close as possible the original cultivar is termed a “rehabilitation” of the heirloom variety (Idlebrook, 2011). Therefore, a program was initiated to “rehabilitate” the current, commercially available cultivar NuMex Big Jim.
Growers requested our breeding program to rehabilitate the commercially available ‘NuMex Big Jim’ by selecting for a more uniform heat level, maturity date, plant habit, and increased yield. A similar request was given for ‘New Mexico 6-4’ and culminated in the release of ‘NuMex Heritage 6-4’ (Bosland, 2012).
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