Peppers – learning history from my garden

Hot Fish PepperThis spring while planning the garden my daughter asked me to start some hot pepper seeds. I am not a person who loves hot food but why not. I also have not had the best of luck with peppers. They grow but I have never gotten a pepper off a plant that is worth eating – hot, middle or sweet. But what the hay – why not try.

We ordered seeds, I started them under the lights inside and planted them in mid May. It is now early August the tomatoes are ripening and I needed a hot pepper to add a bit of spice to the salsa that was bubbling on my stove. I marched out to the garden and checked the pepper plants – the one stuck in the middle of the patch, the one that is absolutely gorgeous and was titled Hot Fish.

I carefully navigated my way through the foliage to find lots of peppers – light green with white stripes. Cutting into them told me I had plenty of heat with using only one of them. All good in the kitchen with 3 pints of salsa and few smaller containers now frozen for winter use I begun to wonder when it is really best to pick these beauties? What I found was history growing right in my front garden.

The Hot Fish Pepper plant has a long history in African-American culinary culture that predates the 1870s. It is thought to have been brought to this country from the Caribbean by African slaves. It was used in the Chesapeake Bay area in fish sauce. The Fish Pepper was an ingredient that blended into the white sauce and was passed on by word of mouth through generations of cooks. It was seldom written into a recipe so it began to fade in the garden world here in the United States.

There is a great story about a Pennsylvanian named Horace Pippin. (The Horace Pippin – the famous artist. Mr. Pippin was looking for bees to use for an arthritis folk remedy and ended up exchanging a selection of seeds to a beekeeper name H. Ralph Weaver.Peppers 2 HF

In this group of seeds were the Fish Pepper seeds. They stayed in the Weaver private collection until H. Ralph passed down the seeds to his grandson William Woys Weaver. Nearly a century later in 1995 the fish pepper was reintroduced by William to the public.


Who knew that the seeds growing in my Minnesota front yard garden had such a wonderful history! It now has me curious about the history behind some of my other plants.

P.S. The answer to my question when to pick these peppers – is also interesting. They begin with this lovely light green with white and darken to an orange and finally end up red losing their stripes. I have read that they get hotter as they turn darker. I am excited to watch the color change as fall approaches. Although I must admit that the light green with white stripes is hot enough for me right now. My children who love hot food may be getting a great deal of peppers to cook with this fall!


(photo from


Story sources:

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Garden journal, Reflections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Peppers – learning history from my garden

  1. Pingback: Where do my plants come from? | Words from JL

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