Most visitors to St. Augustine, Florida have never heard of St. Augustines most beloved treasure, the Datil pepper, but it has been the centerpiece of Old Florida cuisine since the 1800s. The plant typically grows to be around one to two and a half feet tall and bears elongated yellow/orange colored peppers. The plant takes about five months to mature and has been affected by pepper weevils and adverse weather conditions.
While some people contend the pepper was brought to Florida with Minorcan settlers via the Caribbean in the 1700s, records seem to confirm that it came over with a Cuban jelly manufacturer named S.B. Valls in the 1800s. According to local historian David Nolan, there is no reference of the pepper in St. Augustine before that time. Whether it was the Minorcans or Mr. Valls who brought the pepper to Florida from the Caribbean, the Datil became a signature ingredient in local Minorcan cuisine still served today in St. Augustine.
Today, a handful of families who trace their heritage to the original Minorcan settlers continue to grow the pepper and make unique products with them. The peppers bright, fruity flavor is well suited to hot-sauces and spice mixes. The McQuaigs, who own Minorcan Datil Pepper Products Company are one such family. Their line of Datil products includes a spice mix, a mustard, a BBQ sauce and their top-sellera hot sacue that is sweet, tangy and spicy all at the same time.
The greatest challenge facing the McQuaigs and other small-scale Datil pepper product producers is the low quantity of peppers produced, since almost all production is centered around St. Augustine. The hurricanes and floods of recent years have been a considerable detriment to production and only a handful of farmers can meet commercial demand. Locals, however, continue to grow the pepper in their gardens and use it to make various hot sauces and other dishes like chicken pirlau and Minorcan clam chowder. Bottles of vinegar infused with Datil peppers can often be found on the tables of many local eateries.
Minorcan Datil Pepper Products
5057 Silo Road
St. Augustine, FL 32092
Randy Haire: 904-824-0970
Steve Lent: 904-823-8603
First Coast Technical College Culinary Arts Program
The culinary students grow and sell Datil pepper plants
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