“Fish pepper” may not sound like the type of veggie you’d usually jump at the chance of tasting, but hold those opinions till you learn the history of this awesome little capsicum conveyor. We know you’re probably going through the normal range of questions, especially ‘does it taste like a fish or just look like it?’ It truly is a story of locally-sourced produce making an unlikely comeback. So if you’re looking to try a new pepper with its roots (pun intended) in Maryland agricultural history, read on to learn about fish peppers.
The Historical Origin
While there is not a clearly documented, written history of the fish pepper, sources believe that it was carried over to the US from Haiti in the 1800s, and it is likely a mutation of either cayenne or serrano peppers. It is in the same family (capsicum annuum) as those two pepper varieties and shares many characteristics with them. The pepper was grown in the Chesapeake area almost exclusively by African Americans, most often in home gardens. The pepper thrived in the Chesapeake climate, and it could often be found at local farm markets and in seafood dishes created by African American cooks and caterers.
The Unlikely Comeback
While the pepper did grow well in the area, its popularity eventually waned (a decline that corresponded with a shift away from agricultural pursuits for African Americans in the area), and it was all but extinct by the early 1900s. The unlikely comeback of this interesting pepper is thanks entirely to Horace Pippin. Pippin, an African American painter and WWI vet traded seeds with a neighbor in exchange for bees. The neighbor stored the seeds in the freezer, and eventually, his grandson donated them to the Seed Savers Exchange in the 1990s. Every fish pepper seed for sale today comes from those seeds traded by Pippin.
Culinary And Other Uses
Everyone loves a comeback, but does everyone love this pepper? For the most part, yes, since this pepper has so much to offer. For starters, it’s really pretty – so much so that it is often used as an ornamental. The pepper goes through a rainbow of colors as it ripens, from white to yellow, to green striations, to brownish, and finally to red. The pepper’s taste is often described as tangy and fruity, without any bitterness. It is similar in taste and spice level to a jalapeno when it is ripe but can be mild and slightly sweet before that. Just watch out – there is a recessive albino gene in this variety, so sometimes even the ripe, hot ones are still pale white.
BAYWATER FARMS HAS THE RIGHT PRODUCE FOR YOU
Baywater Farms is a family-owned and operated farm servicing Baltimore, Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware beaches, and the Eastern Shore. We are capable of meeting the demands of your produce distributor, restaurant produce supplier, CSA produce supplier, or wholesale produce supplier while maintaining the integrity and character of a small farm. When you work with Baywater Farms, you work with an experienced, ethical, and local farm dedicated to providing the highest-quality heirloom produce.