St. Augustine History with a Spicy Kick

There’s a secret spice on Florida’s Historic Coast that brings a kick along with a place in history. It’s the Datil Pepper.

Pronounced Daa- till, this pepper is small but spicy, with heat similar to the habanero. The pepper hits around 100,000 to 300,000 on the Scoville scale (for those serious about their peppers). 

You’ll find that the Datil peppers the history of St. Augustine. No one knows for sure, but it is believed that the Minorcans brought the pepper along with them in 1777 when they fled a dying Indigo Plantation in New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine, in search of a new, safer home.  What is for sure is that the Datil flourishes in the greater St. Augustine area, growing nearly exclusively in the destination and northeast Florida.

Florida’s Historic Coast is known as a foodie destination with its culinary culture influenced by the many peoples who are an important part of St. Augustine’s past – Spanish, Greek, Minorcan, and Cuban. You’ll find the word “Datil” on nearly every menu in town. There are Datil sauces, jellies, marinades, baked goods, chocolate covered Datils and the list goes on.

There’s even an annual festival dedicated to the homegrown pepper.  The Datil Pepper Festival is held in October each year – this year it is October 6 – 7. The festival features a cook-off, vendors selling Datil Pepper plants and other products, and workshops led by Master Gardeners.
Try this tasty Minorcan Clam Chowder featuring St. Augustine’s Datil Pepper
Minorcan Clam Chowder
Serves 4-6
Time: 1 ½ hours for cooking

 2 dozen fresh Florida clams* from your seafood shop (any size)
 4 oz. salt pork** (also found in most markets)
 1 datil pepper, minced (use half a pepper if you’re heat shy), or datil hot sauce
 1 medium onion, diced in small pieces
 1 green bell pepper, diced
 2 medium carrots, diced
 1 c. diced small red potatoes, peeled (2-3 total)
 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes – or 3- 4 chopped fresh tomatoes
 3 tbsp tomato paste
 1 tsp fresh garlic (1-2 cloves)
 1 tsp oregano
 1 tsp rosemary
 1 tsp thyme
 1 tsp salt
 3 bay leaves
 (1) 8-oz bottle clam juice (also found in markets)
 2 c. fish stock (found in markets, but if fresh from the seafood market it’s even better)
 1 Soup pot, 1 colander, 1 large pan with lid, hand strainer
 *If you cannot find fresh clams, you may substitute two - 6.5 ounce canned minced clams (found in your market). Drain the clams from the juice (but save the juice and add to the soup at any time.)
 **Substitute bacon if you cannot use salt pork.
 1. Take 4 oz. of salt pork and cut up in tiny pieces. Place in a soup pot and cook for 10 minutes.
 2. When the salt pork is browned, scoop out and place on a paper towel (leave the fat in pan) and with the remaining rendered fat add the diced onion, green pepper and carrots. Cook 5-10 minutes until the onions look translucent (clear). Note: If there is not enough fat rendering to cook the vegetables, add one tablespoon of olive oil.
 3. Stir in one 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, 3 tbsp of tomato paste, all the seasonings (use fresh or dried) - garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and salt. Add one minced datil pepper, or 2-3 tsp of datil hot sauce (to taste).
4. Next add the 8-oz bottle of clam juice and 2 cups of fish stock. Let it simmer on low heat for 1 hour.
 Directions for cooking clams:
 5. Place the 2-dozen fresh clams in a colander in the sink. Lightly scrub the outside of the clams and rinse to remove any dirt or sand.
 6. Place the clams in a large pan over medium high heat with 1/3 cup of water. Cover the pan and cook the clams for approximately 10 minutes. When the clams open, they are cooked. Remove from stove.
7. Back at the sink, place the clams in the colander, let drain. Any clams that do not open, throw away.
 8. When the clams cool, remove the meat from the shells. Chop the clam meat in diced pieces. Discard the remaining clamshells. Set clams aside.
 9. Add one cup of the diced potatoes to the soup and cook approximately 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.
 10. Add the chopped clams and cooked salt pork. Cook just long enough until the clams and pork are heated through (5 minutes).
 11. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. This is a soup that tastes even better the next day because the flavors have blended together. 
NOTE: If you are using canned minced clams, drain the clams, retaining the juice (you will get one cup of clam juice from two cans of 6.5 ounce canned clams).