By Jennifer Andreu Yarbrough
Hey, y’all! I have been writing for St. Johns Magazine since February and have had the honor of interviewing many amazing members of our community and writing about things that are happening right here in Northwest St. Johns County. Well, Mrs. Debbie, my Publisher has asked me to write something a little more personal, so, here it is. This is the November Food Issue, so I wanted to write to you about one of my all- time favorite, super local, hot-hot-hot food items: the Datil Pepper! Y’all, I could eat Datils in one form or another all day—Datil sauce on my eggs for breakfast, Datil sauce again on my turkey sandwich for lunch and some Datil pepper vinegar on my greens or spinach for dinner! What is a Datil Pepper, you ask? I am here to tell you all about my love for them and 'pepper' in some facts while we’re at it.
Local legend says that the Minorcans brought the Datil Pepper to the area in the late 1700s. Woah, writer lady, what’s a Minorcan? Well, you are “talking” to one, or the descendant of one, and that might be the reason I have a spicy relationship with these peppers. Minorcans were a group of indentured servants primarily from Minorca, Spain, an island in the Mediterranean, brought to New Smyrna Beach in 1768, by Dr. Andrew Turnbull to work on his indigo plantation. Well, what the Minorcans originally thought of as an opportunity turned into a disaster. The brave Minorcans (who also had Italians, Greeks, Corsicans and French in their ranks) fled abuses in New Smyrna and sought safety in St. Augustine. The walk was long and difficult, many died; the ones who survived became part of the tapestry that is St. Augustine, and my peeps.
Modern research has shown that while the Minorcans grew Datil peppers and created many recipes with them they may not have brought them here. One such story is that the pepper was brought here by jelly maker, SB Vallas in 1880. No matter what the origin, every Minorcan family has a Datil sauce recipe, and if they share it with you, you should count yourself lucky, ‘cause we are very protective of our sauce!
How does one eat a Datil Pepper, especially since it’s about the same heat as a habanero on the Scoville scale? The answer: very carefully. While some restaurants in St. Augustine have started offering the raw peppers dipped in chocolate, I would suggest you start with a mild pepper jelly, then move up to a mild sauce and/or a smidge of pepper vinegar on your greens. A great idea for the upcoming holiday season—put out a dish of cream cheese topped with datil pepper jelly and a side of crackers—it will be a hit. You are going to love the flavor of these peppers—as my grandma used to say, they’re like the Minorcans—spicy, but sweet, a unique and memorable flavor for sure!