LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 17. Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce.
by MOLLY McGINN
Water won’t cool down a hot chile in your mouth. Go for the milk. There’s nothing quite that hot cooking in Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, but you never know. A Habanero Hot Paper Lantern could literally walk into the kitchen. Any day.
Chiles start popping in late August and won’t stop until the first frost. And with the 5th Annual Pittsboro Pepper Festival coming up Sunday, October 15th, Chef Jay Pierce has chiles on the mind. He served the Local Lengua with Pittsboro Pepper Chowchow and a vegetarian option there the last three years. This year, expect the same dish, and something a little different, he says.
To celebrate the chile this month, we asked Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s favorite chile farmers – server and farmer Mark Schicker and Guilford College’s Korey Erb – to share a few tasty tidbits about these hot pungent pods.
Meantime, scoop up plenty of red, green, and Jalapeno peppers this weekend at the farmer’s market (we’ve got Jay’s Pepper Jelly recipe below), grab a glass of milk and toast the season’s hottest vegetable: the chile.
Chiles at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen
A southern staple, the chile is a member of the nightshade family and kin to tobacco. Lucky 32′s pimento cheese, hot pepper jelly on lambastic sliders and the house-pickled pepper vinegar all feature locally grown chiles. Fans of the Chef’s Choice at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen will notice Jay uses a lot of pepper jellies.
“Here in the southeast, we don’t much think about our love of chiles; we attribute them to the southwestern larder,” says Jay. “But chiles are a New World food that indigenous people taught us about and they’ve worked their way into the Southern food lexicon in the form of pepper jelly, pepper vinegar and good ole hot sauce.”
Mark Schicker, Schicker’s Acre in Pleasant Garden, NC
Getting chile peppers started takes some work, but the beauty of peppers is that they’ll keep going and going until the first frost, says Schicker.
“I start my seeds in mid-March and you don’t have to put the plants in the ground until May 1,” says Schicker. “This winter was so warm that I put mine in the 18th. We had a frost in late April and it killed the plants. So don’t put your plants in the ground until May 1. That’s what I learned this year.”
- Schicker supplies the restaurant with Cayenne Peppers and Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers for the pepper vinegar.
- If blossom end rot is a problem, he plants the seeds with crushed egg shells.
- Ever wonder why red peppers are more expensive at the grocery store? Red peppers start growing green and turn red the longer they stay on the vine. Extra time on the vine exposes peppers to more bugs and diseases, making the red pepper a delicate commodity.
- The Scoville Scale measures a chile’s spiciness. The bell pepper is 0 and one of the hottest chiles — the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion — rates 1.5 to 2 million units (same as law enforcement grade pepper spray).
Korey Erb, Guilford College Sustainable Farms, Greensboro, NC
Chiles make up a small part of Korey Erb’s sustainable farm at Guilford College. He grows food for the school’s cafeteria and CSA program. He doesn’t necessarily need chiles for the food or resale value (the school uses some on pizzas and the like). He grows chiles on the farm for the same reason he grows flowers — he just likes them.
But every once and again Erb says, he gets lucky enough to find someone, like Jay, who wants to use one of the more unusual varieties in a unique way.
On Erb’s farm you’ll find:
- Anchos, Tiburon variety
- Four different types of Habanero
- Two different types of Jalapeno – Canchos (larger and sweeter) and El Jefe (a bit hotter)
- Cayenne, the Joe’s Long variety, a very long, really spicy chile; and Andy, not as spicy, and a really light and “flourescenty” color, Erb says, and a little bit sweeter.
- New this year is the Hot Paper Lantern, like a Habanero with a waxy finish
Why so many chile varieties? It comes from trying to develop a vegetable that’s disease resistant, Erb says.
“There is a lot fungal, viral pressure on these little suckers. Some variety has been created to make it more resistant to these pressures. And you can have a lot of variety within one pepper. When it’s green, it’s super hot, and when it starts to turn red it sweetens up. The same pepper can taste very different, depending on when you harvest it. If the weather’s drier, it’ll be hotter.”
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Pepper Jelly
1 cup red bell peppers
1 cup green bell peppers
1 cup Jalapeno peppers
3 fluid ounces white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 box Sure Jell – 2/3 cup pectin
Wash peppers well and then chop. In a food processor, pulse peppers and 2 tablespoons vinegar three times for 2 seconds each. Do not liquefy. Transfer peppers to a sauce pot. Add remaining vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in Sure Jell and simmer 1 minute. Pour into a labeled container and cool before using.
Makes: 1 pint