THE DATIL PEPPER, ST. AUGUSTINE’S TREASURED PEPPER

Amit Vyas

If you’re outside of St. John’s County in Florida, you’ve likely never heard of the Datil Pepper. If you’re a lover of hot sauce though, we want the opportunity to change that!  In order for you to fully appreciate the little yellow lanterns, you’ll need to know their unique history.

St. Augustine in Florida is the nation’s oldest city.  Originally inhabited by the Timucuan Indian and colonized by the Spanish in 1565, the city will celebrate its 455th birthday in 2020.  Rich in history with much of the original architecture still standing, the historical landmarks and artifacts serve as a gateway to the city's storied past.  

St. Augustine is home to many cultures, but none with the longevity of the Minorcans. Minorca is an island off Spain that was colonized by the British in the late 1700s. It was in 1768 that Andrew Turnbull organized the largest attempt at British colonization by founding New Smyrna, Florida.

Minorcans, Greeks and Italians were recruited to work for land by the British colony.  The conditions were not as promised for everyone, as the Minorcans were treated as indentured servants.  After about 7 years of servitude, the Mincorans went 70 miles north where they settled in St. Augustine, Florida.

 

The flavor of the Dail Pepper and Minorcan cuisine

When researching the history and taste of the datil pepper, I got speaking to Mike O’Steen of Minorcan Mike’s Datil Pepper Company. Mike shared that his ancestors were some of the people who made the journey from New Smyrna to St. Augustine and in their trek, the Mincoran people actually brought the datil pepper with them.

Mike remembers his grandfather introducing him to Datil peppers at an early age; growing and picking them, and using his grandfather’s Datil pepper sauce and vinegar.

Datil pepper lovers usually start describing the pepper as “Sweeeet”, but Minorcan Mike goes on to explain, “With Datil pepper, you get the flavor first. [There’s the] unique, sweet flavor of the Datil pepper, and then a nice heat comes after.”

The Datil Pepper comes in at around 100k SKU – 350k SHU and ranks slightly lower than habaneros on the Scoville Heat Unit Scale. Mike mentions that if you slice up a Datil pepper in some chili or Minorcan chowder you will get the heat, but it’s a sweet, distinct flavor and that adds to other flavors in a meal.

From backyard chefs to the mom-and-pop diners, many St. Augustine residents concoct, share and sell their Datil pepper recipes to anyone with a venturous palate. The Datil pepper has become quite versatile to cuisine, adding a sweet, hot and spicy tang to whatever it is used to flavor.

With a visit to the city between spring and fall, you’ll find merchants are set up at farmer's markets or at one of the numerous annual fairs. In St. Augustine you’ll find Datil sauces and jellies, spices and pickles, baked beans, chowders, chutneys, salsas, peanut, vinegar and mustard.

Some entrepreneurs in the area have worked long and hard to try to make it into the culinary big leagues. One such business owner is Joe Stewart of Dat’s Nice Hot Sauce. He has invested many years after being introduced to the Datil pepper at a young age. You can read his craft hot sauce story here and try their Datil pepper sauce in the Craft Hot Sauce Subscription Box.

Growing Datil Peppers

Most people in other parts of the world have never even heard of the Datil pepper, yet it has been a part of the St. Augustine cuisine since the 1700s. As a mainstay, they are almost entirely grown in St. Augustine and botanists say the Datil is indigenous to the St. Augustine climate. With a visit to the city between spring and fall, you’ll find merchants are set up at farmer's markets or at one of the numerous annual fairs.  In St. Augustine you’ll find Datil sauces and jellies, spices and pickles, baked beans, chowders, chutneys, salsas, peanut, vinegar and mustard.

Some entrepreneurs in the area have worked long and hard to try to make it into the culinary big leagues.  One such business owner is Joe Stewart of Dat’s Nice Hot Sauce.  He has invested many years after being introduced to the Datil pepper at a young age.  You can read his craft hot sauce story here and try their Datil pepper sauce in the Craft Hot Sauce Subscription Box.

Most people in other parts of the world have never even heard of the Datil pepper, yet it has been a part of the St. Augustine cuisine since the 1700s.  As a mainstay, they are almost entirely grown in St. Augustine and botanists say the Datil is indigenous to the St. Augustine climate.

Minorcan Mike shares that Datil peppers usually start becoming ripe in May and will grow through the summer, yielding new peppers within 30 days or so. They typically stop producing after the weather gets colder in October. Lots of growers will cut back and re-grow the same pepper plants. The cutbacks don’t yield as many peppers the following year, but the plants can be re-grown for the next 3-4 years.

It sounds like 2020 is off to an early harvest season in St. Augustine as one of Mike’s growers mentioned that they already have 100 plants with buds on them.

A lot of people who grow Datil peppers plant them in buckets and use bark mulch, watering them 2-3 times per day. The peppers grow green to golden yellow-orange and usually end up growing up to around two to three inches long when mature.   

The Business of Peppers in St. Augustine, Florida  

The little Datil pepper is beginning to become better known as food shop owners and area restaurants serve the plant-made delicacies. Many St. Augustine hot sauce companies like Minorcan Mike's, Dat's Nice and Old St. Augustine Gourmet have shared their story on Craft Hot Sauce. As vacationers and tourists from other parts of the country and the world visit St. Augustine, they taste this savory pepper. Many local growers hope it’s secret will spread.  Hot sauce enthusiasts who visit the area should do everything to sample Datil pepper sauces – we’re absolutely sure you won’t be disappointed.

FARTLEY FARMS (COLUMBUS, OH)

Amit Vyas

My name is Ron and I’m proud to be the founder of Fartley Farms, a small-batch hot sauce company based out of Columbus, OH. Being in the same city where CaJohn’s originated gives people a certain level of expectation when it comes to hot sauce, but we feel like we’ve held up pretty well here at the start of our journey. From humble beginnings of putting together a way-too-hot Carolina Reaper sauce to our current lineup of four, the Lady of the Farm (my wife) and I are excited to bring you some more details about us and appreciate Craft Hot Sauce giving us the opportunity to do so.

OUR FIRST BATCH

We mentioned it briefly above, but the first sauce we ever made was awful. We’d gotten some Carolina Reaper seeds and put them in our raised beds to see what would happen and once ripe, we tossed them in a blender with vinegar, a pinch of salt and some carrots. It was awful. The taste was bitter, the heat was too intense to be edible and I clearly remember getting the hiccups immediately, which led to tears and led to me halting the process altogether. There were still a handful of reaper pods so I turned off the stove, did some googling and got back to it. Learning how to even out the ingredients and sorting out ratios turned into a better sauce and over time turned into our now Scorpion Garlic sauce. Simple ingredient list, but shows off the pepper in a way we love. Another lesson we learned the hard way from the first batch is to never cook inside your home. The Lady of the Farm threw me outside for the rest of the test batches and ever since then the first batch of our sauces (5-8 bottles) is made on a tiny Coleman camping stove. From there we work with our co-packers at Madstone USA to bump up the batch size and tweak recipes with them until we’re ready to do a 400+ bottle run.

Since that first horrible batch we’ve scoured the internet, tried other sauces, read books from Dave DeWitt, and straight up thrown random ingredients together to come up with 30+ recipes we enjoyed. Each one will now go through rigorous testing and tweaking to help us determine which ones get to see the light of day and which will end up on our site under hot sauce recipes. The thing we learned with such small batches initially is that you can always pour it out. Experiment as much as possible, determine what other people like and what they pick up on when they try it and polish it from there. We’re of the opinion that there is no “perfect sauce for everyone,” but through feedback we feel like we can get pretty darn close.

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

I don’t remember the first hot sauce I ever tried, but I remember hot sauce being a staple when I was in the Boy Scouts. The food during camping trips and backpacking trips was always a bit bland and half the time it was burnt, so keeping hot sauce handy became a requirement. The Father of the Farm (my father) and I started bringing new sauces with us, slowly cranking up the heat until we got to Crazy Jerry’s Mustard Gas (Ingredients: Distilled Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Water, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Pepper Extract, Turmeric, Mustard Oil, and Natural Spices).  It destroyed us and became fun to have other folks try it and see the reactions. Over the years there were spikes of hot sauce usage, but I didn’t really get into a broad variety until I moved to Columbus in 2011. From there we started looking at the hot sauce section of every grocery we entered and are now deeply engrained in the small batch community, trading sauces and still finding new favorites.

BEST HOT SAUCE MEMORIES

There are two that stick out. One from the making side and one from someone eating it side. The first memory where it was like “oh, we may be on to something with our sauces” was in 2019 at the Columbus Fiery Foods Festival. We entered one of our more unique sauces and ended up taking second place in the Amateur sauce-maker competition. Unfortunately we’ve never been able to reproduce the exact flavor profile, which haunts me to this day. It’s one we continually try to replicate when we make our micro batches, but so far it’s never been the same. Some day 😊

The other memory is during a backpacking trip. We had a sauce similar to the El Yucateco XXXtra Hot Sauce and it had gotten a bit crusty at the rim. Unbeknownst to a fellow backpacker, he had gotten some residue on his fingers. He proceeded to wipe some sweat out of his eyes only to trigger the receptors in his eyes to ignite with the pain of a thousand suns. As he rolled around rubbing his eyes and trying to get some water, our worn down group laughed and laughed (while helping obviously, we’re not monsters). That was a day I realized that hot sauce had a special quality that many other foods, condiments, or products just didn’t have. Hot sauce was an experience. Something that everyone had a different reaction to, some intense, some mild. Overall there was a lot of joy that it brought people and that’s something we’ve hung on to.

WHY DO WE MAKE HOT SAUCE

It’s a bit corny, but from that last story we make sauce to recreate that experience. The intensity of feeling the heat of the peppers mixed with the fun for folks watching. This wasn’t fully cemented until we watched people eat our hotter sauces, their eyes widen and the sweat start to appear on their cheeks, nose, and forehead.

Outside of that, almost no two hot sauces are the same. Within each category or style of sauce, two makers can come at it from two different angles with their own take and have two completely different sauces. That to use was super cool and we felt like we had some unique takes on sauces that folks would like.

What started as a hobby has resulted in 300+ orders, a lot of new friends and associates and we’re just beginning. We’re excited to continue filling out our numbered lineup and plan to have a 0-10 someday with the 0 being something made with habanadas, or heatless jalapenos.

ADVICE FOR BEGINNERS

For us it really boils down to a few simple things: just start, stay open to feedback, and trust yourself.

Just start. There’s really no other way to say it. We’ve had lots of people ask “well how do you know if a recipe is any good?” You don’t until you’ve made it. Sure you could have a chemist sit and write out formulas of flavor molecules that go well together, but unless you have easy access to one of those, just take some ingredients, slap them in a blender and try it out. Your own taste buds will give you a good understanding of what is missing. When we first put together a recipe, if we’re not sure what is missing we’ll split it into several smaller bowls and add different spices to see which ends up being our favorite. From there, make it again and have your friends try. Stay open to feedback and if they say “no, it’s great!” ask them what could make it even better. Find the people that have a lot to say about what they don’t like and keep them close. Toss every new sauce to them to see what they think and take notes of how they respond to it. Seriously, being open to feedback is crucial.

The other piece of advice would be to trust yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in listening to everyone and asking groups of people about what you should do next, but at the end of the day only you can decide your next step and if it’s the correct step. Do your research, try to back up gut feelings with information and make the best decision you can with the information you have. Not all of them are going to work, but keep building that muscle until you have a good feel for it.

WHERE ARE WE?

We love learning more about hot sauce, so if you ever have questions, suggestions or thoughts, let us know! You can find us at https://fartleyfarms.com on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter as fartleyfarms or in the /r/Columbus and /r/spicy subreddits where we post our “Spiciest Dish in Columbus Series” every Friday morning. If you’re interested in how to get started selling hot sauce we’d be happy to give you any additional tips or advice, just hit us up on any of the above communication lines.

Related CRAFT HOT SAUCE BLOG!

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July 01, 2020

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HOT SAUCE PEOPLE IN YOUR OFFICE

 

July 01, 2020

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HOT SAUCE PEOPLE IN YOUR OFFICE

 

July 01, 2020

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HOT SAUCE PEOPLE IN YOUR OFFICE

 

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