Monday, August 8, 2011

Tennessee Cherry Pepper

I've been taking the Tennessee Cherry pepper for granted. What I mean is--even though I dedicated a post to the hot sauce that we've been making with these fermented peppers, there was little discussion about the peppers themselves. I just thought everyone could visit their respective farmers markets, and get a handful or two of Tennessee Cherries. Or, surely, this was a pepper variety that was common in Tennessee, right? The more I talked with the farmer who was selling these tiny, intense peppers, the more I began to understand that he had created the peppers. One day, he explained that the bright red peppers I was purchasing that particular day weren't quite the Tennessee Cherry peppers, yet; they were what he called the "Tennessee Cherry, Jr.," or a plant that had reverted to the characteristics of the true Cherry pepper's predecessors. The Jr. pepper is a little bigger and not quite as smooth as the Tennessee Cherries I'd bought last October. Jim, the farmer, assured me that by next year, he'd have a true, open-pollinated Tennessee Cherry Pepper.
It's a little difficult to tell, but most of these peppers are smaller than a dime, and some are as small as a single elder-berry. They are very fleshy and seedy when cut, and pungent. The true Tennessee Cherry is more regularly ovoid, and the size of a pinto bean, or even a little smaller. I've never tried to eat the peppers raw, but they are quite spicy--spicier, I'd say, than a habanero; it may be even spicier than a Scotch bonnet, although I can't be sure. Jim actually grows all of those peppers, as well as the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper. 

I have used the Tennessee cherries in a salsa, and it's just about the spiciest salsa that I've ever made. As I mentioned earlier, I've also fermented the peppers to make hot sauce; the sauce is similar to the one that Jim sells at Market. He recommended that I ferment the peppers in brine made with salt and a sweet white wine (for 2 months), and blend with rice vinegar to make the final sauce. Once fermented, I blend only about a quarter cup of the peppers with 3 to 4 cups of vinegar and a pinch of salt; the resulting sauce is relatively thin, but tolerably spicy to us, and quite flavorful (we use a bottle with a pipette to apply it to our food). The flavor that comes through is a little peachy, and a little dusty, but not unpleasantly so. The fermentation and the mild vinegar give the hot sauce a nicely sour complexion without overwhelming the flavors of the peppers. 

I'm sighing a little as I write this--I think I'm a little bit in love with these fierce, tiny peppers. The flavor and intensity is one thing, but over the course of purchasing these peppers, I have developed a great respect for the farmer who grows them. I am so glad to know him, talk to him, and to be able to support his efforts in whatever small way that I can. 
A bottle of hot sauce and more peppers fermenting for the next batch.


radioactivegan said...

I wondered about these little peppers after I tried your amazing hot sauce. I looked for something similar around here, but it makes sense why I couldn't find it! I am really impressed with the pepper guy.

zemmely said...

I'm actually going to work at Jim's farm tomorrow--he's been needing some serious help (as he works alone), and we got a group together to help him out. I'm looking forward to coming home with some great peppers from him.