Hello fellow readers, I interviewed my lifelong friend Russ and his wife, Sara, from Oakland, Tennessee, about their adventure growing hot peppers in pots and turning them into jelly. I watched them grow up! Remotely that is when they decided to start their hot pepper seeds indoors. Russ asked about what grow lights to buy, which became a column topic (link below).
“Your advice helped greatly. The Carolina Reapers, Chocolate Habaneros, and Buena Malaya have taken off, as well as the Sugar Rush Peach. And the Death Spirals, Apocalypse Scorpions, and Trinidad Scorpions all started peaking out this week. Sounds like a sadistic bunch, but Sara makes great products from them,” Russ Moore wrote.
Growing Crazy HOT Peppers turn into Jelly.
To my delight, three colorful hot pepper jellies arrived last week. Sara is an artisan finding regular jelly recipes, modifying them, and figuring out what hot pepper went best with the fruits. She describes each jelly and the peppers used along with the SHU heat rating for each, a term new to me, and suggested ways to enjoy them. With cream cheese and crackers and as a marinade, for example.
SHU stands for Scoville heat units, based on the amount of capsaicin in a pepper—the component that makes them hot. Russ explains, “ a standard jalapeño you get on nachos is 8,000 Scoville heat units, and everything we’re growing this year is 400,000 and up.” Holy moly!
Sara’s Pineapple / Mango Ghost Pepper jelly made with Ghost peppers, one of the hottest in the world, has a SHU of 1 million. She made Strawberry Kiwi Death Spiral Pepper; with a heat rating of 1.25 to 1.3 million. And a new creation Orange /Cranberry Chocolate Habanero, with a heat rating of 900,000.
My building nervousness eased with Sara’s disclaimer.
“None of these jellies are this hot because we have removed the seeds and de-membraned them too.”
The membrane is the rib with the attached seeds. Plus, Sara only uses one pepper per batch of 5-7 jars. After sampling them, Sara’s description was dead on.
“They have the flavor of fruit with a little bit of zip. Most people will never believe they are eating some of the hottest peppers in the world.”
I made scallop-kabobs using the Pineapple / Mango Ghost Pepper as a marinade. They were restaurant-quality, delicious, and just hot enough.
From starter pots to grow bags.
Grow bags are becoming popular as the fabric, often made of recycled water bottles, allows roots to breathe, offers better drainage, and is lighter to move around.
Russ and Sara discovered grow bags worked better than regular containers producing bigger plants with higher yields. They layer potting mix with a layer of earthworm castings, then bone meal, and top it off with more potting mix.
“You can see the difference,” they said.
We had many laughs about the “live and learned” events and side effects of growing unimaginable heat.
Critical tips in growing Dang HOT Peppers!
“Don’t use pots you use for cooking, and it will penetrate them forever.” Russ went on to tell the story of the hottest chocolate chip cookies he ever tasted.
Two weeks prior, he decided to dehydrate Cheyenne peppers using Sara’s cookie sheets. “You couldn’t walk in the kitchen, and it was like someone kicked off a tear gas bomb.”
Then they bought a dehydrator and used it in the basement with the bathroom fan running. At two in the morning, they woke up gagging and choking.
“I tell folks to wear gloves and safety glasses when cutting up the peppers, though we’ve gotten used to it,” Russ said.
Maddy, their dalmatian, short for Maddydale, is named after the Maddy-dale on a fire engine. Also known as a cross-lay or speed-lay, it organizes firehoses for quick deployment. Both Russ and Sara have served important roles in fire departments, which is how they met.
Sara also played a vital role in the Oakridge TN rescue facility for nine years and is now a no-kill shelter offering monthly free spay and neuter programs.
Maybe when they retire, they will make their hot pepper creations a business. Perhaps the name could be the Heat of Hope, with a portion of the proceeds dedicated to saving animals.
You can listen to this story and more in Episode 33 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast.
A bit of background of the Moore family:
Sara served 17 years in emergency services as a chief of an ambulance company in Philadephia then moved to the suburbs. Russ served 20 years as a volunteer in West Chester, PA, with Fame Fire Co. as an interior firefighter, vehicle rescue technician, and a driver on heavy rescue.
“Sara had joined my station, and that’s when we met. I guess you can say the rest is history,” Russ said.
His son Andrew heroically served as a Firefighter & EMT in his first career and now is a top technician for Comcast. Anessa has her own business grooming 45 dogs a week, earning her Groomer of the Year in their county. And Myra, Russ reports, is “growing like a weed.” A beautiful weed indeed. And a beautiful family.
Well, I’m sensing a theme here, from heroes fighting the heat of fires to growing the hottest peppers in the world and turning them into something magnificent. Thank you for sharing your story, Sara and Russ! And for your love of dogs.
Link to Plant Grow Lights 101 inspired by Russ and Sara’s enterprise :^)
Thanks, everyone, for your input on the contending new column photo in last week’s story. Stay tuned :^)!
Link to where you can find Growing Bags from one of my favorite catalogs Gardener’s Supply Company