BEAVER DAM PEPPER

A mature Beaver Dam Pepper is shown above. A festival to honor the heirloom treasure is being held Oct. 4 at the Park Village Shopping Center off Park Avenue (Highway 33) near Highway 151.

Park Village Shopping Center in Beaver Dam is on the verge of creating a new tradition. This fall on the weekend of Oct. 4, the community is invited to celebrate one of the area’s best kept secrets — the Beaver Dam Pepper.

The festival will feature food, fun, music and crafts for all ages, but will especially provide an opportunity to discover the fascinating history of the Beaver Dam Pepper and its origins. One must also savor the taste in order to understand what makes it so special.

“The Beaver Dam Pepper is an heirloom with a great story to celebrate,” said Diana Ogle, shopping center manager. “Come see the Beaver Dam Pepper in the person and taste it on the spot.”

The Beaver Dam Pepper has been celebrated elsewhere in the country including at a special festival in Chicago and Milwaukee two years ago in honor of the pepper seed’s arrival in the U.S. a century ago. Its unusual history has earned prime coverage on public radio both in Wisconsin and out of state and the pepper has been featured at numerous farmers markets.

“This pepper has created a stir among those who enjoy good food and has been celebrated by organizations like Slow Food,” Ogle said. “Several of us who discovered the history have been working diligently to bring community groups and organizations together to host a marvelous celebration of the Beaver Dam Pepper locally in our back yard where it all started.”

The Beaver Dam Pepper Festival is being created to introduce people to the delicious flavor and complexity of this heirloom pepper and provide an opportunity for folks in this area to come to see what all the fuss is about.

“We also want to share the pepper’s rich history and demonstrate the importance of preserving heirloom food traditions,” Ogle said.

This Hungarian heirloom was brought to Beaver Dam in 1912 by the Joe Hussli family. The Husslis were Hungarian immigrants who brought this special vegetable with them in order to grow it in the new country.

The pepper seed is available from just a handful of mail order seed companies in the United States and Canada, and its future is largely in the hands of these seed-saving companies. There will be over 400 pounds of Beaver Dam peppers available for purchase on the day of the festival.

The pepper’s first fruits mature 80 days after transplanting, at which point they ripen from lime-green to red. The crunchy fruits are mildly hot and when seeded, they hold an excellent flavor. Rated as a three on a scale of one to five, the Beaver Dam pepper is perfect for making fresh batches of cool tangy salsas.

Chris and Tim Csiacsek say the Husslis were not the only ones to recognize the value of bringing the seed from this outstanding pepper with them when they came to this country. Seeds were actually brought here by a couple of families. Chris is organizing pepper genology for a booth at the festival that features the history of this heirloom vegetable.

“Tim’s grandma Anna, at age 14, came to this country in around 1920 and she also brought the seed along,” said Chris. “Anna taught her children, grand children and great grandchildren how to grow it and harvest the seed head, dry it and save it for planting in years to come.”

The Csiacsek family has a huge supply of the seed on hand and they plan to pass it on through the generations. Like any heirloom seed, Beaver Dam Pepper seeds cannot be planted next to another pepper variety or cross-pollination will occur. This is not the case for hybrid varieties.

This Beaver Dam Pepper variety has been registered with Seed Savers, an organization dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties of plants on the brink of extinction. Hybrid varieties were developed to produce plants that require less care and that produce fruit that will endure long distances to market.

Organizations like Slow Food are more interested in plants that produce good tasting, healthy foods.

“At the festival in October,” Chris said, “we will not only be celebrating the pepper’s good taste but we are also celebrating heritage. It’s a wonderful story and we think it’s time to tell that story locally.”

The Beaver Dam Arts Association, Moraine Park Technical College’s culinary class and the Beaver Dam Community Hospital are partnering with Park Village Shopping Center to host the festival, promoting interest in healthy foods and creative uses for the Beaver Dam Pepper. Other local organizations and businesses sponsoring the event are Lidtke Motors, Park Avenue Sports Café, Horicon Bank, Chippy’s Popcorn, Beaver Dam Area Chamber of Commerce, Waupun Chiropractic, Inter Quest, Brehm’s Wondercreek Nursery, McCallum Electric, Edith’s Cake, Catering & Café, Scrumptious Pantry, Chef Chanse, Specialty Cheese, AmericInn Lodge & Suites of Beaver Dam and Beaver Dam Country Club.

“As I make plans for this new event, I feel like a hen gathering her chicks, gathering vendors and participants to provide memorable music, contests, history and good eating,” said Ogle. “Come celebrate with us!”

The event will be held in a portion of the parking lot of Park Village Shopping Center. Go to www.beaverdampepperfestival.com or like us on Facebook for all the details.

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