When they try to develop new, localized varieties of beans or potatoes in the horticulture program at Delaware Valley University in Upper Bucks Township, not many people get interested.
But, people took notice when the school recently partnered with a whiskey maker to produce a no-longer-grown rye as part of an effort to bring back a lost-to-time whiskey recipe.
The school is trying to generate some excitement again, but instead of tantalizing your taste buds, it wants to burn them a little.
The school’s latest project, which is still in development, is to create a hot pepper that Dr. Sarah Dohle, assistant professor in the department of plant science, is calling the DelVal Reaper”
The name might sound dramatic for a pepper that hasn’t even been created, but that’s the point, she said.
“The name was to get everyone interested,” Dohle said.
One local business already is interested in the new pepper: Jamie Hollander Catering and Events in New Hope.
Luke Smithson, executive chef, and a couple of his staff members went to the Doylestown campus to sample some of the parent peppers Dohle is using for breeding to give her advice on what flavors and colors they thought would be most appealing to the dining public.
“Personally, I’m just really interested in different varieties of edible plants,” Smithson said. “Hot peppers are a lot of fun. They add a lot of flavor to dishes and they are very colorful.”
He said being able to offer such produce on his menu helps to build the reputation of Jamie Hollander as a farm-to-table food provider, which is in demand right now.
Dohle said she is hoping to get other local restaurants and caterers – even local gardening enthusiasts – to come help sample and guide the pepper’s creation and get people enthused about an Upper Bucks hybrid pepper.
As for the name, Dohle admitted she stole it from the Carolina Reaper, which will be one of the parent peppers in the hybridization program they’re undertaking. She also said it will take several years – at least nine generations of planting – for the pepper to be considered its own hybrid, and it might get a name change by the time it comes to market.
But for now, the school has a product – or at least a potential one – that people are talking about and will hopefully get buy-in from local markets and restaurants that will want sell or use a local pepper variety in recipes.
She and her students have already reached out to the local foodie public with a recent tasting event at the DelVal Market, a small grocery store that partners with the college to sell fresh produce grown on campus.
Dohle is trying to build excitement for the whole idea of localized hybrids by using the attention-grabbing pepper.
Dohle said marketing is not her specialty, but she’s hoping students can learn more about the business end of creating a new horticulture hybrid.
Someday she’d like to see the Upper Bucks region be known for its own hybrid produce, products that are created for flavor, quality and ease of growing in the local climate.
“I traveled to Italy recently and everything is regional crops. The menu changes depending on where you go and what they grow there,” she said. “This is a good spot to do that.”