Hot Time at the Brooklyn Botanic’s Chile Pepper Fiesta

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Sept 29, 2012GRAY SKIES, WHO CARES?  That was the attitude of the crowd at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden‘s 20th Chile Pepper Fiesta today.

At lunchtime the Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum ensemble played under a tent on the Cherry Esplanade; visitors sat inside or out under the cherry trees, and children hopped and danced around. It was good laid-back Saturday time for couples, friends and families.

Co-chef Johnny Mclaughlin of Heartbreaking Dawns.

Strangely, “Chocolate Debauchery” had me enthralled up in the Osbourne Garden just when Hazmat Modine – billed as “dueling harmonicas, funk tuba, and eclectic blues” – was scheduled to take the stage at 2:15. On the grassy Osbourne plaza there was plenty of vendor action not only with spicy samples to taste, but picklers and sauciers to chat with and learn from. Nearly 50 tents in all.

Everyone has a story, it seems, about how or why they started their artisanal businesses. Some have been in business for decades, like Grace Foods, which boasts of “quality since 1922.” With its Jamaican roots through Grace, Kennedy, & Co., there’s plenty of history (about 9 pages on the web site, for instance), but most are much younger businesses. Sour Puss Pickles, for instance, had a born-yesterday hopefulness about it; a his-and-her company, it was founded in 2009.

Another his-and-her company provided the most intriguing story of the day, however, though one not fully told, only hinted at. I talked with Johnny Mclaughlin about his wares and his generously offered recipes, and then asked how the Hudson Valley company he developed with Nicole Ramsperger came to be called Heartbreaking Dawns. “It’s from the poem,” he said. “By Rimbaud.”

Uh, “Season from Hell” sprang to mind; was it by that Rimbaud, the dissipated symboliste poet of perpetual adolescence? My questioning got a shrug and a smile. (Once home, I looked it up; it’s from “The Drunken Boat,” a longish poem and much admired, that Rimbaud wrote when he was 16. The passage translates as, “But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.” Hmm.)

All in all, the “hot” chocolate spiciness was the real discovery of the day for me. I came away from the Chile Pepper Fiesta with a tingling tongue, a messenger bag clicking and clanking with jars and bottles, a sheaf of recipes and brochures, and a bunch of new ideas about peppers.

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