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San Antonio Botanical Garden Spices It Up With Pequeño Pepper Day

Brian Kirkpatrick
Texas Public Radio
Jalapeños turn red when they're left on the stem.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden is celebrating Pequeño Pepper Day on Saturday.

There will be culinary demonstrations, a pepper plant sale, and spicy cocktails, including a do-it-yourself chile-infused tequila.

The botanical garden's horticulturist, Andrew Labay, will offer tips on growing the perfect pepper garden in San Antonio.

"There's certain varieties that handle our heat better than others," he said. "I'd say some of the hotter peppers do better than say our bell peppers. The jalapeños, the serranos are very productive, also banana peppers, Hungarian hot wax peppers do real well for us. So variety is an important topic. You want make sure your planting that plant at the right time. We tend to plant them right a little bit after our tomatoes go in at the end of March. Make sure to kind of keep a good steady soil moisture, but not too much water. You know it's like a lot of things, full sun but a little afternoon shade does not hurt."

Brian Kirkpatrick
Texas Public Radio
Andrew Labay is the San Antonio Botanical Garden horticulturist. He will be offering tips on growing the perfect pepper in a San Antonio garden at Pequeño Pepper Day.

So what is the hottest of the hot peppers?

"There's several really hot ones, like the Carolina Reaper, they're hybrid peppers. You know our habaneros are certainly quite hot as well, much hotter than things like your jalapeño or your serrano."

Labay also has a quick and easy way to make salsa at home.

"If you got your grill going, throw on an onion, a tomato and a pepper. Roast it for a little bit and throw it in the blender and that makes excellent sauce."

The garden's conservation and volunteer specialist, Maeve Bassett, will offer a history class on peppers at the event.

"We're starting out with an ethnobotany of peppers, so that's my specialty. I'm going to talk about how the pepper came about and how it spread throughout the entire world, especially when it comes to the native Texas chile and how that kind of took over the entire world," she said.

Brian Kirkpatrick
Texas Public Radio
NuMex Twilight peppers turn a variety of colors, from red to purple to white.

The chile tepin is the official pepper of the State of Texas.

So how did peppers travel all the way from Central America over the ages and end up in Tex-Mex dishes here in San Antonio? Bassett said it took humans and birds.

"When birds eat something, they don't chew up the seeds. so when they poop it out it's whole and can grow again. But if a mammal or another critter comes along and chews up a pepper, those seeds are gone. So a lot of people call it a bird pepper, and so it spread throughout Central America."

She said humans took a liking to peppers and started adapting them, making them bigger, spicier or sweeter.

The celebration at the botanical gardens will include live music and dance performances. You can also go on a guided tour of the Frida Kahlo Oasis. The Mexican artist had her own famed garden.

If you miss the pepper day, you can visit the garden anytime through October from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. From November through February, the hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

Bassett said visitors should check out a map of the garden before visiting because there is a lot of ground to cover. There are 38 acres of garden and facilities to see.

Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for children. Children three and under enter free, and there are military and student discounts.

The garden is located at 555 Funston Place.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian