Notable Edibles Spring 2011 Issue

Excerpt from “Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail”

By Wendy Allen 0

Authors Kraig Kraft, Gary Paul Nabhan and Chef Kurt Michael Friese (all three involved in Edible Communities magazines) traveled the Southwest and Mexico searching out the story of climate change, the most controversial topic of our time, narrowed through the lens of the tiny yet iconic chile pepper and those who farm, cook and eat this fiery and culturally symbolic ingredient. “We had a hunch that climate change wasn’t just out there—in the polar ice caps and in receding glaciers—but in here, in our food system, in our daily bread as well,” the three self-proclaimed “chileheads” write in the introduction. Surprisingly, the chile is a perfect food to follow; it has spread in various varieties to all six inhabited continents and has found its way into main dishes of numerous ethnicities. Part travel narrative, part gastro-exploration, the first chapter had me hooked. I was also pleasantly surprised to read about a pepper that takes its name from a city right here in Wisconsin. The following is an excerpt adapted from Chasing Chiles, available from Chelsea Green Publishing in April 2011:

Gary first encountered Beaver Dam in the grow-out gardens of the Seed Savers Exchange, in Decorah, Iowa, when he served on that organization’s board. It was a thick-fleshed, rather meaty pepper relative to the more famous paprikas of eastern Europe, and so defied easy stereotyping. When he encountered it again in the nurseries and on the seed racks of Jung Seeds—a distinguished regional seed house based in southern Wisconsin—he knew he had to learn more of its story…

While Larry has been keeping Beaver Dam peppers in his garden for roughly forty years, he said he was simply following in his father’s footsteps. And his father, Joseph John Hussli, took up the torch from his own father in Beaver Dam, Joe Hussli the Elder, an immigrant from Hungary who unfortunately died before Larry could learn directly from him…”The seeds raised by several Hungarian families around Beaver Dam all came from my granddad’s seeds. But my dad also had a passion for them. He regularly grew twenty-five hundred pepper plants a season, and sold the peppers locally."...

“They can give you plenty of flavor, not just fire. My favorite way of eating them is raw, cut in half and then into slices [but not in rings, as some claim his mother Florence once told them], and then paired with some venison sausage I make and some cheddar cheese.” He also eats them fresh, stuffed with a spreadable cheese, and has paired them with many meats, including salami and liver sausage, and Swiss and other cheeses…

There is a certain irony in the fact that Larry has taken the Beaver Dam peppers to a hotter, more southerly climate. Since the time when he grew up around his father’s pepper patch, the climate of southern Wisconsin has become far more like that of southern Illinois [where Larry currently grows Beaver Dam peppers]. Mean annual temperatures in Wisconsin rose 1.3º F from 1950 to 2006, with winter temperatures warming by 2.5º F over that same period. The Union of Concerned Scientists has projected that, by 2030, Wisconsin summers may resemble those of Illinois in terms of average temperature and rainfall… Gary had one last question for Larry Hussli before they said good-bye…”Why do you do it? Why do you go to this effort year after year to keep the rare Beaver Dam pepper alive and thriving?” Larry was quick to answer…”All I wanna do is honor my grandfather and father. Some of the rest of my family doesn’t garden, but I do, and so I can keep it alive… [the Beaver Dam pepper is] just something I don’t ever want to be lost.”

Wendy Allen is digital editor, copy editor, and a writer for Edible Madison. She reads style guides for fun, believes stories have power, and is fascinated by the evolution of the English language—for better or worse. Her mission: to wrestle the wily comma into submission.

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