Bottling Hell: Marketing St. Augustine, Florida’s Datil Pepper

Signs in David Vander Bush’s yard for fresh Datil peppers, Elkton, Florida, 1982, by Merri Belland (collector), State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

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Bottling Hell: Marketing St. Augustine, Florida’s Datil Pepper

by Anna Hamilton
Southern Cultures, Vol. 21, No. 1: Food

"'My husband likes to say . . . 'We're not just another hot sauce, we're 400 years of history.'"

Datil peppers sun on five bushes by the pool in Mary Ellen Masters’s backyard next to Faver Dykes State Park—a wild, scrubby preserve in south St. Johns County, Florida. Masters, whose family has lived in the area for nearly six generations, is renowned for her seemingly masochistic love of the spicy, heirloom peppers (a variety of Capsicum chinese similar in heat to the habanero) that are endemic to St. Augustine, Florida. Each year, she cooks 130 gallons of Datil-infused Minor-can clam chowder for the St. Ambrose Catholic Church Fair in Elkton, Florida, garnering her the undisputed title “Queen of Chowder.” “We have wimpy, mild, medium and hot—Minorcan hot,” she says of the chowders she prepares. “The Minorcan hot’s hot. I mean, it’ll make your nose run and your eyes run.”1