Boog's powerful passion for pepper production

September 23, 1998|By Rob Kasper

THERE ARE A PECK of peppers in Boog Powell's back yard. There are more than 30 pots of pepper plants, each serviced by an automatic drip watering system.

In Boog's refrigerator there are jars and jars of pepper sauces. The jars have handwritten labels that give a brief description and the vintage of the contents. "Chocolate Thunder 9/19/91" reads one label. "Trinidad Coffee, '98," reads another. "Cayenne 8/26/98" reads a third. Some guys have a wine cellar, Boog has a pepper-sauce cellar.

A visitor to Boog's kitchen is likely to leave with not one, not two, but half a dozen jars and bottles of his pepper products. And when Boog and his wife, Janet, visit their grown children in Youngstown, Ohio, and Tallahassee, Fla., they always take the kinfolk pepper sauce.

Boog's passion for peppers got started back in the 1960s, the high-jalapeno days of the Baltimore Orioles, when the team resided in Memorial Stadium and he held down duties at first base. As Boog tells the story, he and pitcher Dave McNally, along with groundskeeper Pat Santarone and clubhouse manager Clay Reid used to get together in the clubhouse for a pre-game snack of crackers, cheese, and a sauce made of chopped jalapeno peppers and vegetables.

Boog liked the flavor of peppers so much that he started growing them. Like Johnny Appleseed, he planted them as he moved across the landscape. He planted some in the back yard of the house on Medford Road when his family lived near Memorial Stadium. He planted some more when his family moved to a house in Putty Hill. He grew them in Florida, when he moved there to run a marina in Key West. And when he got out of the marina business and decided to split his time between homes in Florida and Baltimore, he bought a house in northern Baltimore County and set up a pepper garden, in pots, in his back yard.

Recently Boog gave me a tour of his backyard peppers. Like a proud papa, he showed me his jalapenos, his cayennes, his Trinidad coffees, his orange explosions and his scorpion, a pepper which is so pungent that he has to wear gloves when he handles it. "I didn't wear gloves one time," Boog confessed, "and my skin hurt for four days."

Eventually we ambled into the kitchen where I watched Boog make pepper sauce, a task he undertook with the practiced ease of a Frenchman making baguettes. First he stemmed and chopped the peppers, cayennes, a pepper he rates as warm but not scorching. Next he pulled out the household pepper pot, a worn metal saucepan that is used solely for cooking peppers. If anything else is cooked in this pot, Boog said, it ends up with an odd flavor.

He put the peppers in the pot, covered them with white vinegar, water, garlic and salt, then let the mixture bubble. Later he would liquefy the cooked peppers in his blender, and pour the sauce, through a strainer, into bottles.

While the peppers cooked on the stove, Boog stood in his kitchen and talked of food and family life. He pulleed vintage pepper sauces from his collection and offered me tastes, often with the admonition, "Be careful with this one."

He produced glasses full of homemade tomato juice. Making the tomato juice, like making pepper sauce, is an annual household ritual, he said. He recalled that last year, when he underwent an operation for colon cancer, his kitchen work suffered. But he added that now that he is back in good form, the stores of homemade tomato juice and pepper sauce will be replenished.

We looked at family photographs, one showed big Boog, and his 2-month-old grandchild, Victoria Lynne. Another showed Boog cooking pork ribs in the woods of Tallahassee during a family get-together. "We dug a hole, set up a rig, got some logs and NTC cooked rack after rack of ribs," Boog recalled with a smile. "We kicked ... "

Boog did not put sauce on the ribs while they were cooking. "I just salt and peppered them, and let the smoke get 'em," he said. But once the ribs came off the fire, he had a finish sauce, made with peppers smoked in his kettle cooker, ready to apply to the meat. Smoked peppers, he said, are a terrific ingredient to toss in a barbecue sauce.

Boog acknowledged that most American eaters are not as crazy about peppers as he is. That is one reason why there are not 700 pepper sauces at the Camden Yards pit-beef operation that carries Boog's name.

And like many guys who grow peppers, Boog is constantly trying to come up with ways to use them. The hot pepper sauces, such as the one I watched him make, can be sprinkled on pinto beans or greens or chicken wings, he said.

Boog has even found a use for a sauce made with scorpion peppers, the ones that have to be handled with gloves.

"It can clean up old coins," Boog said. "I put some sauce on an old penny. It made it shine like it was new."

Boog's Hot Sauce

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

3/4 cup water

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 cups cayenne peppers, stemmed and chopped

Put all ingredients into a pot used solely for cooking peppers. Bring to boil, then cut back heat to just below boil and let mixture cook until peppers soften, about 30-45 minutes.

Drain cooked peppers and liquefy in blender, running at high speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Strain, pour into bottles.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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