Perfect Peppers, Pickled or Plain

by Brad

Julie Hollars is the current owner of the Farbotnik Farm in Vallecito, California, the farm famous for growing the Vallecito Wax Pepper. The farm currently sells the peppers raw, but some in the area remember when Vallecito peppers were sold pickled. To understand why, Julie has shared with us her family’s story of their Vallecito Wax Pepper.

The story begins in the late 1940’s, Julie’s great grandfather, Frank Canepa, handed down his heirloom Italian white wax pepper seeds to Julie’s grandparents, Bea (maiden name Canepa) and Steve Farbotnik. The Farbotnik farm began growing the unique pepper, named Vallecito Wax Peppers after the name of the town where the family farm resided. Once picked, the peppers were rinsed, packed and pickled in a special blend of vinegar, salt, and garlic.

The peppers were an instant hit. Bea was buying up all the vinegar from the local market and was asked by the owner what she was doing with it.  Harry Croshaw, owner of Angels Food Market, asked to bring him a jar of peppers.  He then told Bea; he will sell every jar she brings in.  Although the Farbotnik farm had only a small group of pickers, they expanded to the point where they were producing between 14,000 and 19,000 pounds of peppers in a season, in addition to everything else grown on the farm. The Canepa/Farbotnik family prided themselves on offering their delicious peppers at an affordable price, allowing all the families in the area to enjoy the unique and flavorful Vallecito wax pepper.  They became so popular; United Grocer began distributing them to supermarkets throughout Central California.

As is always the case, things change. Over time, as rules and regulations from the FDA mounted, new restrictions on PH levels for pickled foods threatened to bring an end to the Vallecito pepper story. Steve and Bea decided it was too expensive to have the new required state inspector on site during the pickling process.  To continue providing the Vallecito Wax peppers to the public at a reasonable price, they started selling them raw.

Hiring this inspector would have been costly, and to cover those costs the Farbotnik farm would have had to raise the prices on their jars of pickled peppers significantly. Instead of ratcheting up prices, the family took a different path.

Today, the Vallecito Wax Peppers are only sold raw, and can still be afforded by all the families in the area. But Julie also decided to make her family’s original pickling recipe public, allowing everyone to continue enjoying the same flavorful pickled peppers they grew up with by making them in their own kitchen.

Whether you prefer your peppers pickled or plain, the delicious Vallecito white wax pepper is another unique product only available here in the California Central Valley.

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