Heat to last the winter from Meggie's Farm
It seems fitting that Kris and John Maguire were in the jewelry business before they started growing peppers. They started the farm after retiring from their family-run jewelry business and since then have been cultivating at least fifteen varieties of peppers (amongst other unique veggies), many of which they dry and process into delicious ground spices. The farm is named Meggie's after their eldest granddaughter.
The Maguire's were full of stories—cooking experiments good and bad, John's truck driving adventures or his dislike of MRE's during the Vietnam war (the spicy Vietnamese food was way better), but I found the comparison of peppers to jewels an especially lovely one as I walked around their farm in Rehoboth, Mass. It was harvest time and the colors of the peppers were dazzling—gleaming in the gray New England light in glossy hues of ruby, emerald and pale opalescent yellow.
Kris and John started focusing on specialty peppers in 2011 when they discovered an organization called Farm Fresh Rhode Island could help them sell some of their excess produce. "We couldn't give them away," said John, referring to the peppers that seemed to be in excess in those days. Some they began to sell to a friend's Korean restaurant that liked the extra heat for some of their recipes, others they dried in the garage and ground into powdered spice that they could sell as an unexpected local product.
Kris explained she had trouble finding a dried paprika in the supermarket that she liked, so they decided to grow and dry their own. While the tradition of paprika (in particular Hungarian) dates back generations and indeed must be respected for its rich history and cultivation, the truth is that a lot of what we have in the U.S. isn't very flavorful, having been ground to a fine powder and allowed to sit on a cargo ship and in a warehouse and finally on supermarket shelves for a long time before reaching our tables. Shortening that grind-to-table time reveals a new world of flavors, especially for us New Englanders.
Serdar and I tasted many of the peppers as we walked about the farm, although I admit I was too chicken to swallow one of the bird's eye chilies whole. "It raises your body temperature," John said, telling us he enjoyed them whole occasionally, like a vitamin. I watched as Serdar popped one in his mouth and gulped it down without a second thought. He seemed to suffer no ill effects as we drove back to Boston, although chilies are in his blood, compared to the baked beans and cod that are in mine.
One of my favorite peppers that we tasted was a pepper variety called Sugar Rush Peach (a type of Capsicum baccatum hybridized in the U.K.) that has a pale yellow hue and an unmistakable peach note. Our visit marked the first year Meggie's farm grew this chile, which I later learned is related to a rare Peruvian variety of Aji chile. The pepper is small with rumpled skin and a juicy, ripe peach flavor that hits you when you first bite it, followed by a hot-habanero flavor in the finish. I was a little wary about this flavor coming through in the dried, ground version, but when Kris sent a sample I couldn't believe how fresh and peachy it still tasted. I've enjoyed using it in a variety of simple applications, such as on roasted potatoes or dusted over lentil soup.
|Sugar Rush Peach chile|
The care that the Maguire's take in growing their peppers shows—each one dazzles the eye with vivid colors like gems of a beautiful necklace, and the taste is incredibe on the palate, too.
Considering myself addicted, I asked if they planned to grow the peach chilies again next season. Kris told me they planned to grow an even bigger patch.
|Some of Curio's New England products including Meggie's chilies|
*Note: Meggie's ground chilies are limited in quantity! We rotate a few on the shelves at the Curio Spice shop, but don't sell them online just yet. They are also available at Formaggio Kitchen. Our New England spice blend Supeq spice contains Meggie's chilies.