I’ve been lucky enough to know Susan McCormick and her delicious Scovie & Hot Pepper Award-winning jellies for over 13 years. She’s as warm and sweet as her jellies and I was thrilled to meet up with her and check out her pepper farm!
Susan began making pepper jellies as a way to use the peppers grown in her back yard. An extra abundant garden year had her looking for a way to use and preserve a pile of peppers. She came across a vintage bell pepper recipe that was the beginning of her jelly adventure. Mango Madness and Hoppin’ Jalapeno were her original flavors. Almost 22 years later collaborations with distilleries, wineries and with her own boundless creativity, Susan has about 3 dozen flavors under the Pepperheads banner.
I arrived at Rossi Farms on a gorgeous October day and Susan walked me down the rows of plants describing each variety of pepper: Ghost Peppers, Red Fresno, Scotch Bonnets, Scorpion Peppers, Serrano, Cayenne, Poblanos, Baby Bell Peppers, Carolina Reapers and Shishito Peppers. Most of these peppers go into her jellies but some are for her kitchen at home and the Serrano Peppers will be going to a local hot sauce maker. Susan is thrilled about that collaboration and is also planning the release of a Farm to Bottle hot sauce of her own in the next couple months.
The pepper farm was first started eight years ago and this is its third year of residence at Rossi Farms and her trickiest season yet. It’s been a cool, wet year in the Portland area, not ideal conditions for peppers. Paying close attention to the plants, Susan has cut back on water and been lucky in surviving a September hail storm. Adjusting to the plants needs and not following the same routine from previous years that had hotter, sunnier days have given her a great pepper harvest. While she’s a self-taught farmer Susan did grow up around agriculture, her mother worked for a fruit company in the Columbia River Gorge and she packed cherries from orchards with her twin sister for a summer job. Her father had his own tried and true theories on planting, one of her favorite tips from him was that tomatoes always had to be planted after May 15th! She’s also had some trusted mentors that have helped her along the way and is now thrilled to be able to reap the rewards of her hard work.
Growing her own peppers is Susan’s effort to be self-sufficient, not relying on a market that can fluctuate dramatically and impact her key ingredient’s cost. She also considers farming to be an art and was thrilled when a man recently pulled over next her farm to show his daughter “where food comes from.” As the world gets more automated and urban areas lose their green spaces, it’s important to remember that real food comes from hard work in conjunction with nature and younger generations need to be taught what used to be considered common knowledge.
Susan’s philosophy on farming is “Grow something you love, and share!” Most of her farm is dedicated to peppers but there’s also an area that is dedicated to amazing Walla Walla onions (for the Tipsy Tomato jelly), tomatoes, squash and other veggies that her crew can take home to their own kitchens. Susan has a team of dedicated, passionate women that love to come out of the Pepperheads kitchen for “farm days.”
It’s a nice break to have their hands in the dirt where they can enjoy the fresh air and on clear days views of Mt St. Helens and Mt Hood. Susan’s husband Howard spends much of his time at the farm and their two dogs are always along for the ride and to patrol the plants! For more about Susan's hand poured jellies go to, https://rosecitypepperheads. com.