More than 100 years ago, Hungarian immigrant Joe Hussli brought the seeds for a medium-hot pepper from what was then Hungary and planted them in his new home, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The pepper was popular enough (or the Hungarian name was impossible to say or spell) to be named after the town where it grew, but like so many other seeds brought by immigrants, it fell by the way-side after hybrids were introduced in the 1950s.
In 2010 Lee Greene started looking at the Slow Food Ark of Taste, a list of “delicious and distinctive foods” that are on the brink of extinction, and quickly settled on the Beaver Dam pepper for her line of pickled products. She began to search for growers of this variety. She discovered that John Hendrickson grew it and gave him a call. He said, “Well, I have only have one row of peppers”. Hendrickson himself had found the pepper in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog earlier that year, and like Greene, was intrigued because his farm was only ten minutes from Beaver Dam Wisconsin. Beaver Dam pepper was all but forgotten until they collaborated brought it out from obscurity.
It’s doubtful the pepper still exists in the area Joe Hussli immigrated from in 1912 (then a part of Hungary, now part of Serbia). During a research visit, Greene could not find anyone who remembered it or could identify it. Did it just change a little bit here and there? Or just adapted itself to the midwest, developing into a pepper that’s so different from what left the homeland that they themselves can’t recognize it?
Regardless, here at the farm, I feel a kinship to a Hungarian Pepper that survived and flourished into a “naturalized American” much like myself. When you take a bite, you get the other flavors first, and then the heat kicks in, it’s a much milder sweeter heat than a jalapeno, but the heat dissipates a little with cooking. I love Beaver Dam and will grow it every single season from now on.