As my boonie peppers are turning red, if I don’t harvest them quickly, they’re turning out like this:

Something is eating the tips off my peppers.

I still harvest the half eaten peppers, because they have valuable seeds. 2 or 3 of those tiny seeds can grow into a 6 foot plant. So I dry what remains, and collect as many seeds from the pod as I can.

I don’t think hornworms are doing this (though I found at least one hornworm on my plants), and all the boonies are flowering these days. It’s been an unusually wet summer, almost semitropical in character. The peppers love it.

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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.

I’m not entirely used to the idea of replanting tomatoes when you grow them from seeds. The technique (here for example, or here) is so different from what I developed for boonies. With boonies, you sprout them, and there is no concern about darkness for a new days. You fertilize with an indoor strength fertilizer from the start, and keep the plants warm and in soda bottle greenhouses.

Tomatoes, by contrast, you must watch like a hawk when they sprout so they don’t  grow too much. You don’t fertilize until they have true leaves, and then only once or twice. Water is otherwise enough. You replant 2-3 times perhaps, every time they outgrow their “container”. You replant most of the plant into the ground in order to  create a deeper stronger root system. The final pot depth should be a minimum of 12 inches deep. (I think my tomato pots last year were at best 6 inches deep. Oops.)

By the end of the weekend, I want all my tomatoes into 6 inch pots.

The new boonie peppers are getting sizable enough that I should consider replanting them at some point, try a more tomato-like technique.

I marvel at how my tropical pepper, the Guam Boonie, continues to produce when the weather is so cold.

It’s just beginning October and the night time temperatures have dropped to below 50 degrees F. By this time every plant has flowers or the buds of flowers (even the runt boonie) and most have some kind of small fruit.

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I don’t know how long it will take for the weather to change to the point they have to go inside. I just have my fingers crossed we’ll have fruit we can harvest before we do.

I’ve spoken about Benny’s Bar and Grill at least three times previously, and I wanted to do it once again for two reasons.  First, I wanted to capture the place in images. I hadn’t done that before. The second reason was that I had an ordinary crawfish etouffee elsewhere. It was, like too many frustrating plates of Cajun in Atlanta, missing the point. The dish had good ingredients. The dish had a roux.  But the etouffee had no real spices to speak of, and when online grocery stores can say of an etouffee:

A proper etouffee will be orange-colored, with a hint of brown. It should be spicy, as it’s main spice ingredient is cayenne pepper, and saucy enough to form a thick gravy for the rice. However, take note that it is not gumbo, and should not be served like soup. The gravy in etouffee is much thicker than the roux of a gumbo.

you have to ask just what people are thinking when they serve underspiced food.

Further, if you look in Donald Link’s excellent Cajun cookbook “Real Cajun“, you find that he uses eight sources of ‘heat’ in his etouffee. He uses a poblano pepper, a jalapeno pepper, and paprika. He also uses ground white pepper, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper. This is before he adds hot sauce to taste. He doesn’t use a huge amount of anything. The peppers are there to let you know they are there, to tease and cleanse the palate, to make you ask, “Just what flavor is coming next?”

Anyway, I needed something to remind me of what serious spicing is all about, so a visit to Benny’s was truly in order.  Mike “Benny” Miller, for better or worse, has the spicing of his food down cold.

The outside of Benny’s is modest:

Outside of Benny's

Outside of Benny's

The sign may be the first thing you see.

The sign may be the first thing you see.

Once inside, I started with a beer. They were out of most of their draft beers, but they still had Guinness draft. Guinness draft is lighter than you might expect and very drinkable. If you can handle Harp, Pete’s Wicked Ale, or Sam Adams, you should be able to handle Guinness:

Guiness - lighter in taste than the color suggests.

Guinness - lighter in taste than the color suggests.

That was followed with a salad

Vinagrette on the side.

Vinagrette on the side.

Then a bowl of Benny’s excellent gumbo.

The gumbo has flavor that builds with every bite.

The gumbo has flavor that builds with every bite.

The entree was Benny’s excellent jerk spiced pork tenderloin.

Rich with flavor. Somewhere around here I'm finishing my 2nd Guiness.

Rich with flavor. Somewhere around here I'm finishing my 2nd Guinness.

The dessert was a pair of Key Lime sticks. I’m sure the dessert was overkill.

Worth every minute of exercise they'll cost.

Worth every minute of exercise they'll cost.

The restaurant was pleasantly full, with a church group meeting inside.  I was able to speak to Mike a bit, all much appreciated. He’s a gracious host, knows food far better than I ever will. His theory on heat is to get the hottest pepper possible, and then add ingredients that add flavor (shallots, garlic, etc). Flavor, to Mike Miller, is more important than pure ‘burn’.

Benny’s Bar and Grill
3902 Highway 78
Snellville, GA
(678) 209-0209

It wasn’t something I thought of much when I was on Guam. They were wild, they had been there at least since the Spanish arrived in the Marianas, they were spread.. how? A common theory is as they are pequin type peppers (e.g. bird peppers), that birds spread them from island to island.

There is however a comment on the Wikipedia that the common Guam/Saipan boonie is some kind of Thai ornamental pepper. The reasoning behind this is that the peppers point upwards on both plants.  However, there are some problems with this thesis. For one the Guam boonie isn’t classified as the same species as the Thai ornamental. I verified this by emailing New Mexico State University’s Chili Pepper Institute, who replied:

…we have the Guam Boonie as a Capsicum frutescens, it is not the same thing as a Thai. Hope this helps, thanks for writing

The second is that they’re hardly the same size. While the Guam boonie reaches well over 3 feet in height, the Thai ornamental is a plant that gets to 12-18 inches high.

I wrote my bachelor’s alma mater, the University of Guam, and got a couple interesting comments out of that. From a comment from Phoebe Wall to a member of the alumni group at UOG I get this:

The “boonie pepper” is definitely Capsicum frutescens. There is a lot [of] variation in types. I imagine [Food Near Snellville] is probably referring to the donne’ sali (the small one that is really pika).

and from Professor Mari Marutani (she’s the resident UOG expert on the Guam boonie)  I received this reply:

Hi [Food Near Snellville],
Two hot pepper plants are known in Guam. One is “donne’sali” (C. frutescens) that is characterized to have small, bright red, and very pungent fruits. The other is “donne’ ti’au” (C. annuum), a long, red and pungent pepper. “Donne’sali” has long been harvested from the wild and “donne’ ti’au” is mainly grown in the backyard garden. Selections of each were documented once as ‘Guam Super Hot’ donne’sali, (C. frutescens), and ‘Guam Regular Hot’ possibly a selection of donne’ti’au C. annuum. ‘Guam Super Hot’ is very pungent having Scoville heat unit of 4000-4250, while ‘Guam Regular Hot’ was reported to have an average of 3450 (Lee, C. T. 1987. ‘Guam Super Hot’ chili pepper. HortScience 22:1341). However, unfortunately original specimens of both ‘Guam Super Hot’ and ‘Guam Regular Hot’ have been lost and we will not be able to examine them.

Occasionally, some farmers sell their own selected lines and wild hot peppers (‘boonie’ peppers) to the roadside vendors and local supermarkets. Since there is a great possibility of cross pollination (often by bees), this self-pollinated plant often has a genetic variations in natural environment. People of Guam know there are variation of Donne sali. For example, Mr. Cruz has one kind and Mrs. Santos has slightly different one, hotter or very PIKA.

Mari

In short, the boonie is not the Thai pepper. And what you get may vary considerably, due to genetics.