Ok when we moved to France 18 years ago I couldn't get my hands on anything hot - sauces, chilli powder - nothing, unless I imported it from the UK, which was fine for a while but very limited.
So I thought "right I'll buy some chilli seeds and do it myself!" - which I did. Started off with jalapenos and it snowballed from there.
And every year my obsession gets bigger and bigger - more seeds, more plants - more more more
My brother in law (sister's husband) loves to cook and one day he made a hot stew. I don't exactly remember what he put in it but I believe he said it were a couple of scotch bonnets. Little did I know about chiles back then so I started looking into it. I read more and more, found out about the hottest chili in the world (back then this was the bhut jolokia) and started looking into getting seeds. Found out that there are a lot of varieties and that made it very hard to figure out what to start with. One of the first varieties that I did grow was a cayenne.
Back then I was still a (wannabee) citrus grower. Citrus is such a lovely species, so many interesting varieties, all those great scents and flavors, but unless you can provide them with the right conditions they are often hard to maintain. Buying citrus plans is often quite expensive also. Mail ordering a decent sized plant easily costs 75 euros. I've put hundreds of euros in fresh plants, none of which I still have today (well... I still have one to be exactly, because it managed to survive a number of winters outside).
Over time chiles took over my citrus hobby. Much less expensive, you get fruits from a plant sown in that same year and if it doesn't work out you just start over!
I've been traveling a lot. Around 2011 or so, way before growing peppers was a thing in my country (Denmark), I stood in a supermarket in Indonesia and looked at the veggies. I picked up a pack of Cabe peppers. Thought to myself:
"Over the years I hauled back a lot of souvenir trash from all over the world. The kind of ovepriced crap that I never look at anyway. It just collects dust. But hey, I could take our the seeds from these Cabes, grow them out at home, see if I can make peppers."
What a game-changer it was. Now, some 12 years later I have collected seeds from Indonesia, India, USA, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Jordan and many other places. I am growing at home. Picking a pepper off a plant a home, one that originates from Hyderabad or Bandung and using it for a curry is a blessing. Seeds of pepper plants became my souvenir.
I am not a professional grower. I have no interest in gnarly superhots or discoloured mutants with -at best of times- a dubious taste (what some of you might call 'variegated' in a tone of orgasmic ecstasy and exaggerated hyperbole).
What I have is a little hobby that makes me think of good memories of countries far away and the lovely and friendly people I met there. That's how it started and that's what it became to me. Not an obsession but an interest, a little hobby based on seeds and memories.
My first solid food was a stolen taste of spicy enchiladas. As my parents tell it, they’d just had the first few bites and were commenting on how it’d turned out spicier than they prefer when they noticed I had half crawled onto the table from my high chair and was eating them by the handful. From then and throughout childhood, my dad would sing a sort of theme song whenever I entered the room (my first and middle is John Edmund, “Hernandez” is just dad’s imagination):
“Juan Edmundo Hernandez (ay caramba!)”
…repeated in singsong, with various elaborations as befits a silly dad.
The love of spicy food continued on, but was readily satisfied by commercial sources until recently. I had settled on El Yucateco XXXtra Hot Kutbil-ik as my everyday sauce, and I really leaned on it… up to a couple bottles per week. At $2 per bottle, it’s a cheap luxury!
But then my local source became sporadic and finally dried up entirely. I tried shipping it in, but at my rate of consumption it became too expensive to justify. Not having that flavor in my life every day is not an option, so I started developing my own daily sauce with grocery store peppers, and, as often with me, became obsessed with peppers as a broad subject.
Now, gardening was already a part of my life… during a long spell of depression, my partner encouraged me to choose something to grow at a garden center. I chose a little cactus, and it kindled a similar obsession and streak of research. That was the better part of decade ago, and since then active gardening has been a key aspect in both of our mental health strategies and our enjoyment of life in general. Happily, the distribution of Cactaceae and wild Capsicum overlap remarkably, so all the better to add my new obsession to the garden!
Now, our garden is converging around a theme of “plants native to South- and Meso- America”, which opens up endless further lines of inquiry…
My earliest memories of peppers come from Chicago, Vienna Beef Hotdog stands and the sport peppers they serve with them. My love for heat lead me to eventually start buying Habaneros and Supers from the Grocery, which were expensive and rarely available in the winter when I really wanted them. I knew there were types you could grow on windowsills all year round and somewhere on the way to finding them I discovered this whole captivating genus of plants with many species, forms, and flavors I hadn't even imagined.
My interest in Native American pueblos took me to areas of the US southwest and introduced me to flavors that I had not been exposed to; fishing multiple weeks/year in Mexico further exposed me to the world of chilies; travels to the Caribbean enhanced the experiences. Now we can’t eat a meal without them. Most food is now bland to us unless we cook it. So here we are in Kansas growing everything from jalapeños to super hots along with some of the finest heirloom tomatoes in the world.
The first time I put cayenne pepper on pizza (I was 5 years old!), was a transformative experience (think Tony Bourdain ‘first oyster’ story. If you know you know). I have hooked on heat/flavor ever since
My story began when my grandfather started feeding me jalapenos to keep me out of his homemade pickles.
I was soon eating up all of his jalapenos. Flash forward a few years and I met another Pickle. This pickle however got upset when I asked him why his C. chinense UFO was different from the C. annuum UFO other vendors were offering. That Pickle cursed me out for merely asking the question and demanded I take my post down. It soon became obvious, at least to me, that the pepper world was more than just heat.
Bryan Towshend soon introduced me to a world of craziness I had never dreamt possible. So much beauty and so much diversity... I had no idea that there was this much fun to be seen in the pepper world. Rich Blood enlightened me about much that was behind the scenes in the pepper world... as it appeared I had accidentally pulled back the curtain a little bit when I exposed the Pickle. The truth is, I never meant to expose the pickle. I was simply caught up in a drama that I could not believe existed. A drama where it was okay to disparage a service members honorable service and make up horrendous lies if it meant that people might take that person less serious. And all of this was simply because I asked a very innocent question. Never mind my questions on why one vendors C3p0 looked entirely different from any other vendors C3P0. The more I pointed out... the deeper the rabbit hole appeared to go.
With all of that being said, and much more left unsaid, I can honestly say that I am thankful for those experiences as without them I would likely have made very few Capsicum hybrids and I would not have met many of the wonderful people I have met within the Capsicum community. The pepper world is a reflection of the real world, but for me I prefer to dance around the artistry and the science and make some really cool looking hybrids in the process that also taste as good or better than they look... if that is possible?
For me, it was helping my Dad every year plant tomatoes... he would always also plant banana peppers and jalapenos. Then, in the 90s, habaneros became the rage. I would get one of the typical orange ones at the nursery in Memphis along with the ones my Dad bought. I was the only one who would eat those habaneros, though. Later on after marriage and kids, the Ghost became the "must grow" pepper. I bought seeds from Baker Creek, grew one successfully, and have been hooked ever since.
I was doomed from birth. My father was from Tucumcari NM and loved his chile. We would pick up fresh peppers from NM in season (by the truckload) and bring them home (yes to CA) and then roast them. Roasting peppers - my favorite comfort smell..
Hatch has been a favorite of mine all my life. I found serranos as a good substitute for jalapenos (which I don't care for) and we used habaneros quite often which was also a long-time favorite.
After moving to NC, the variety of peppers just wasn't as good as SoCal so I started growing them. When I moved to my rural home I found that they grew incredibly well. So after growing them and having huge excess for years, I figured it was time to go into farming!