pepper of the mthe pull from spicy to
sweet, it’s time
to appreciate the
pepper By Emory Rakestraw
MORGAN MILNE AND JAMES DOSS KNOW ALL ABOUT PEPPERS. As the owner
of Red Beard Farms in Castle Hayne, Milne grows them and sells them at locations like the
Wrightsville Beach Farmers Market. As owner/chef at RX and Pembroke’s, Doss cooks with them.
Yet a simple question stumps the two men: “Why do people like peppers?”
Both chef and farmer are stuck, answering with “Because they do,” or, “Why not, they’re good.”
It is a surprisingly hard question to answer. Perhaps it’s because the simple pepper is taken for
granted, whether it’s adding crunch to a salad or heat to a dish.
Like déjà vu or watching a favorite movie repeatedly, there’s something familiar yet always new
about the pepper. It challenges our taste buds and our minds — can I really withstand this pepper?
This burn? This spiciness? Yet the vegetable (botanically a fruit), believed to be the first domesti-cated
plant in the world, is also approachable, enticing, colorful.
“My thoughts are if you don’t like a vegetable, I believe it’s because you haven’t had it prepared
properly,” Milne says.
He notes peppers are a regional taste.
“Different cultures have different peppers,” he explains. “Culturally, hot peppers are more of a
Hispanic thing. Italians like a sweeter pepper generally.”
Traditional Mexican dishes like salsas or stews are not complete without the indigenous chili
peppers. When Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, peppers had been in used for thou-sands
of years as food and medicine, incorporated in spiritual rituals and reflected in art. Bartolomé
de las Casas, a 16th-century Spanish historian and Dominican missionary known as the “Protector
of the Indians” for his efforts to expose oppression and slavery in the New World, wrote that with-out
chili peppers, the indigenous people did not think they were eating.