Savoring the Seasons: Spicy or mild, peppers a great addition to any meal

  • Peppers are a great addition to any meal — especially locally grown. Metro Creative Graphics

  • Jim Smethurst in his garden in Deerfield. Contributed photo

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

When I was a kid growing up in California and Hawaii, I loved the spiciest curry and Mexican food. I scoffed at the people who were timid about spicy food.

Then, somewhere along in my 30s, something changed. I loved the taste of spicy foods, but they didn’t like me. After many bellyaches, I gave up and started avoiding foods with spicy peppers in them. Then, I figured out that it wasn’t just spicy peppers, it was any peppers, even the mildest bell peppers. So, now I avoid eating any peppers. I sure miss those great curries and Mexican food. That’s part of why I haven’t written much about peppers in this column.

A few years ago, I asked a friend of mine, who loves spicy peppers, to write a guest column on peppers for me when I was going away for a few weeks in the summer. She wrote about the amazing collection of peppers at Bars Farm in Deerfield (thebarsfarm.com). Truly, if you like peppers, you must visit Bars Farm. They grow up to 28 different varieties each summer.

One of the wonderful things about local farm stands — and farmers markets — is you can try out varieties of vegetables and fruits that you might never see at a grocery store, or have only read about in seed catalogs. It’s hard to choose which types to plant, just seeing photos and descriptions in a catalog.

At Bars Farm, you can learn about a bunch of different pepper varieties, buy them and try them out. Then, you’ll know what to plant in your garden next year.

My friend, Jim Smethurst, lives not far from Bars Farm in Deerfield. Jim grows his own peppers and other vegetables in a big garden each year. He’s also a great cook. I hear about what he’s growing and cooking while we stand in the weekly Saturday morning Greenfield Peace Vigil. A few weeks ago, Jim was excited, because the peppers in his garden were ripening and it was time to make hot pepper relish.

Of course, I asked Jim for his recipe to share in my column, even though I know I wouldn’t be making it. Here is Jim’s recipe and a photo of him in his garden is above.

So, all you pepper lovers, what are your favorite varieties of peppers? How do you use them? I’d love to share your recipes with other pepper fans.

This Week We’re Eating …

Hot Pepper Relish

By Jim Smethurst, Deerfield

This recipe is pretty flexible and pretty simple. I like this relish in sandwiches. Chop up a few hot peppers — how many depends on the kind of pepper and your heat tolerance. I grow jalapenos in my garden, so that’s what I generally use. If you have something really hot, like habaneros, you might want to use fewer. I generally seed the peppers, but if you really like it hot, you can leave them in.

I also seed and chop up less hot peppers, like sweet red peppers, banana peppers, poblanos, Italian peppers, etc., for color.

Sauté the peppers in a tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil. Add salt, both for taste and to help the peppers release their liquids. Cook the peppers until they are soft. Stir frequently. Dice and add a medium-size onion. (Don’t add the onion too soon or it will burn)

Continue to sauté — and stir — the peppers and onion until they caramelize. Take the pan off the heat and add a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar, stir everything up, and let cool. Refrigerate.

Local food advocate and community organizer Mary McClintock lives in Conway and works as a freelance writer for Greenfield Community College, brand promoter for Goshen-based local food company Appalachian Naturals, and writer/editor for More Than Sound. Send column suggestions and recipes to mmcclinto@yahoo.com