I have a long series of articles about the Guam boonie pepper, a small hot pequin style pepper native to the island of Guam. This pepper is not (despite unverified claims in the Wikipedia) the same as the Thai ornamental pepper, but is instead a separate species, closely related to the tepin of Mexico. The pepper is used in Chamorro dishes, most notably the ubiquitous finadene sauce.

To update the status of my plants: I recently posted that one of my four peppers was flowering. This year, all four flowered and it looked like I was going to have a record crop. Then pests started taking bites of my peppers, and I’d lose all but a few seeds.

In mid September we took a trip, and I had to bring my boonie peppers inside. Outside, they could easily have dried out in two days, and the trip was longer than that. The results?

Being inside allows for a more relaxed watering schedule.

Not only has the crop grown larger, they’re not subject to predation and can stay on the bush longer, turning a full red instead of orange. It’s been successful so far. The question now is, will all 4 plants winter well?

Footnote: a video of people eating Guam Boonies is here. The man shown stopped at 11 peppers.

I speak often about the Guam Boonie, a pequin style pepper related to the tepin so lovingly described by Mark Miller. They’re native to the Marianas Islands, and are used for things like finadene:

Home made Finadene sauce.

Thing is, in Georgia, my plants have never flowered in the spring or summer, but only in the fall, until now. One of my four plants is not only flowering, it’s also growing peppers.

You can see a flower about to bloom, a flower after it has bloomed, and a green pepper in this photo.

They’re aren’t many on this plant, but some are better than none. I’m working hard to keep this plant watered and producing. In pots like the ones I use, in Georgia heat you have to water these every other day.

You know, the Japanese do not eat sushi or tempura routinely. Those dishes are reserved for special occasions.
Japanese guest, at my brother-in-law’s Thanksgiving party.

The Chamorros have a few dishes that are signatures, and as my family encountered them a number of times during the Thanksgiving holidays, I thought it appropriate to introduce these dishes in context. In almost all cases where we were served food, the centerpiece of the meal, the first thing on the table was a finadene sauce. I’ve spoken of finadene before. It’s a sauce based on soy sauce, lemon juice (or vinegar), scallions, and boonie peppers. Finadene is a ubiquitous flavoring component in the Marianas, found even in the local Kentucky Fried Chickens. In the absence of boonies, my wife has had good luck with Thai (bird) peppers. But Thais can be 50,000-100,000 Scoville units in heat, while Professor Marutani of the University of Guam has shown me quotes that place the heat of the boonies in roughly the same range as jalapeno peppers, or about 4000 Scoville units. To note, my wife usually freezes her Thai peppers first.

Home made Finadene sauce.

Kelaguen is a Micronesean version of ceviche. However, instead of being applied largely to fish, the most common forms of kelaguen are chicken kelaguen (recipes here and here) and beef kelaguen(recipes here and here). This is not a staple, but a side dish and used for special occasions.

Chicken kelaguen

Red rice is a staple Chamorro dish, and the rice is colored with the red pigment of the achiote bean. The blog Scent of Green Bananas has an excellent article on Chamorro red rice. The bean imparts a subtly different flavor to the rice, which I can only describe as “duskier” or “darker”. This kind of red rice is not the same as Japanese red rice, which is sweeter and more a dessert. Achiote (or achote) can usually be purchased at places with a strong Hispanic influence, such as Atlanta’s international markets.

Chamorro red rice.

A Micronesian cultural resource I’ve recently encountered is the Guampedia. They have placed online dozens of recipes. Among other things, more exotic forms of kelaguen (venison, yellowfin) are presented among the recipes.

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.