Along with a number of bloggers, I share a certain fascination with the lowly pepper. In part it’s a function of living in hot dry places like Texas, and it’s also finding that peppers taste good. Peppers are also a good source of vitamins A and C, perhaps the best source of vitamin C short of citrus fruits.
My wife is half Chamorro, half Japanese, and although we don’t eat Chamorro recipes very often, we certainly like to have them as an option. One of the foundations of Chamorro cooking is a sauce called a finadene sauce, and it is ubiquitous on the island of Guam. Finadene is so popular that even the local Kentucky Fried Chicken serves it there (along with red rice). The finadene sauce is spicy and the spice for the finadene comes from a pepper known locally as the boonie pepper (also called the donie sali). Boonie, in local slang, is simply a shortened version of the word “boondocks“. In other words, the boonie is the common jungle pepper of Guam.
I used to have boonie peppers that my mother had saved and grown in her back yard in Louisiana, and as a wedding present she gave her potted boonies to me. Problem was, I was living in an apartment in Texas at the time and had to keep the plants outside. They didn’t last long. Someone carted off my plants and I haven’t seen them since.
My wife, of course, was heartbroken. Over time she found that the Thai bird pepper was a decent substitute for the boonie, but it wasn’t exactly the same pepper either (though note comments in the Wikipedia on the Thai ornamental). While cruising web sites for this blog, checking out Chamorro sites, I did a search on the boonie and found that people are selling it these days.
The first source is Reimer seeds. They show three different kinds of boonies on their site, though only one kind is available, as of 3/19/2009. The next two sources are two eBay sellers. One is named floralys and the other is named rightbbq. Both eBay sellers are sporting a 100% reputation, while Reimer seeds has had some issues with sales in the past (issues are noted on the site Dave’s Garden). The seller floralys is located in Yigo, Guam, whereas rightbbq is in San Jose, California. Who you purchase from, should you purchase, is your business. For now I’ve purchased seeds from all three sources, and I’m waiting and seeing.
In the meantime I’ve been digging around various sites for information on starting seeds. Floralys gives some advice on the eBay sites he (she?) keeps, but other places that offer good advice on starting seeds are the blogs Container Gardening and About Gardening. Other good resources are Gardner’s Net and Pepper Joe. The poster sampsonsimpson on the Dave’s Garden Reimer thread has some interesting takes on starting seeds that are worth noting.
Boonies, once started and allowed to grow, eventually become bushes with wooden stems, and do well in pots. They don’t tolerate freezes well but they will grow for years. My one worry is that Snellville, GA, is just colder than the part of Northwest Louisiana my mother started her seeds in, and as woody as my lot is, I have to worry about adequate sunlight.
Some notes on Chamorro bloggers, and Chamorro restaurants. Judy the Foodie has put out a lot of posts on Chamorro cooking. The blog Tasi Thoughts is one of the more prolific Chamorro blogs out there, and his discussion of the cook book “A Taste of Guam” has sold me a copy of that book (note – Barnes and Noble is much cheaper than the sources Amazon will send you to). The blogger Scent of Green Bananas is worth a read because he looks at the world in interesting ways. The blogger The Food Ho in one post references a place in San Diego called The Islander Grill, which appears to be a Chamorro joint.
Now if they would only open one of those in Atlanta.
Updates: The site fiery-foods.com has a nice article on the boonie pepper. The company The Pepper Pilot has a collection of boonie pepper based products and also sells boonie peppers, as seeds or dried. Karsten Uhl has a nice article on the Saipan boonie pepper. The blog Square Pegs also mentions the boonie, and the jelly that can be made from them (with very nice pictures to boot). The military support site Spousebuzz.com has an article that mentions finadene as well. In an article from the Anderson AFB web site, Joyce Martratt mentions a spam kelaguen recipe that uses boonie peppers.