Ark of Taste
Hussli Tomato Pepper
Capsicum annuum v. Hussli Tomato
The Hussli Tomato Pepper is a small, heavy pepper with a shape reminiscent of an heirloom tomato, and thick walls which give them their heft. When fully ripe they turn a deep crimson red, but they are enjoyed when picked before full ripeness, when fully green or just beginning to blush. Along with the Beaver Dam Pepper, the Hussli Tomato Pepper was brought to Beaver Dam, WI by the Joe Hussli family from Apatin, Hungary (now Serbia) around 1912. Hussli family members, especially Larry Hussli (now of Southern Illinois) have been saving seeds and are responsible for the continued propagation of this remarkable fruit.
The Hussli Tomato Pepper is sweet and mildly spicy--though heat level varies significantly between peppers. The walls of the peppers are double the thickness of typical pepper varieties, giving them a meaty, yet crunchy texture and exceptional juiciness.
Joe's grandson Larry recounts:
“We know that our grandfather Joseph [Hussli] brought the seeds with him in 1912. He died the year before I was born so most everything I know about the peppers I learned from my father Joseph Jr. As far as I know my grandfather raised and sold the peppers to the residents of Beaver Dam, Wi.
My father Joseph Jr. continued his father’s legacy of growing the peppers, raising as many as 2500 plants each year. Most of his work in the garden was done by hand. I do remember in my early years he had a farmer bring his team of horses into town and plowed the garden up for him. After that it was all hand labor, including a hand made drag he built to smooth out the rough clods of soil. (As a youngster I thought that he was a little crazy doing all of that work, now I know why he did it.)
He sold his peppers when they were green and firm to the touch. Red or ripe peppers were NEVER included as he didn't want anyone saving the seeds and stealing his customers away.
My father was the main keeper of the seeds, and upon his death, I guess I became the next keeper of them. I raise about 500 plants each season and unlike my predecessors, I like giving them away. It's my little way of keeping their legacy going. I share seeds with anyone who might be interested in them. I've sent seeds to at least 25 different states and even Canada…
…I’ve been growing them on my own for about 45 years and soon it will be time to pass on the keeper of the seeds title to someone. Hopefully it will be my son-in-law and grandson or anyone else that will continue to carry on the tradition.”
Photo credit Hellen Owens.