Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jeff & Jolene Stratton: Chapo's Chile Patch

Jeff and Jolene Stratton never expected to become “the pepper people.”

The couple moved to Tennessee from Colorado in 2009. Originally from Arizona, both are retired from careers in law enforcement. During their 10 years in Colorado, they lived and worked a variety of second-career jobs ranging from retail to railroads to education. 

Along the way, they grew gardens and enjoyed the pastime. “We’d always grown peppers and veggies to some degree,” says Jeff Stratton. “In Arizona we grew things in barrels because the ground is so hard. In Colorado we had fields and irrigation, but when we moved to Tennessee we discovered raised beds and it makes growing so much easier.”

They also discovered how much they missed chile peppers. “Out West, especially in Arizona, roasted chiles are sold everywhere,” Stratton says. “Little stands with roasters are all over the place. Roasted chiles have a very distinctive flavor and aroma. When we got here, we missed them and we thought we’d start growing, and then people would request them, and then next thing we know we’re selling chiles at the farmers market.

“Our first planting was in two raised beds in summer of 2010. Now we've expanded to 20 beds with 49 varieties of chile from 15 countries, plus some assorted herbs and other veggies. We have peppers from Asia, Africa, South America, India.”

While the garden area is about the size of an average two-car garage, the pepper operation is spread throughout and around the Stratton’s Jonesborough home. They start seed in late January under lights in the basement, then transfer plants to a small outdoor greenhouse before setting them out in garden beds in late April or early May.

The Strattons produce is Certified Naturally Grown, a certification process very similar to organic certification. They grow to CNG standards of sustainability – without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. They also make their own growing soil from composted materials.

The Strattons call their operation “Chapo’s Chile Patch.” “’Chapo’ means ‘little short guy’and that’s what they called me when I was in the police force,” says Jeff. “Chile we spell with an e. That’s the Spanish spelling used out west. You can spell it chilli or chili, but to me ‘chili’ is what you serve in a bowl.” 

The Strattons started selling at the Jonesborough Farmers Market in 2011 and have been expanding their reach ever since. In addition to the Jonesborough market, they sell their peppers and powders at markets in Johnson City and ETSU. They also sell direct from their website and to restaurants, including the Parson’s Son Barbeque restaurant (for their hottest barbecue sauce).

They’ve been winning prizes too. “Our chiles have won awards at various county fairs and growing contests,” Stratton says. “We took nine prizes in at the Greene County Fair in 2011.”   

The Stratton’s chile powders also garnered national attention last year with a mention in Paula Deen’s September 2012 magazine.

Chiles have also added another dimension to the Stratton’s community involvement. Already involved with St. Mary’s Church, the Jonesborough Kiwanis Club, Toastmasters, the Storytelling Guild, and three quilting guilds, the Strattons now provide chiles and volunteer time to the Farmers Market’s Farm to Table fundraiser and also to Second Harvest's Farmer and the Chef Fundraiser. During Jonesborough days they co-sponsor the hot chile pepper eating contest with the town and this year they plan to help with the October chili-cook-off.

But “the goal is to enjoy ourselves,” Stratton says. And, he says, they most enjoy interacting with their customers and educating people about the world of chiles. Stratton loves to talk about chiles, and loves the opportunity to describe Scoville thermal units that measure pepper heat.

“After three seasons, we have certain customers who come looking for that special pepper – the Spanish Padron, that Turkish Corbaci, the world's hottest Ghost pepper, that Brazilian Uba Tuba and of course the roasted NuMex green chiles. If you’ve got a favorite chile, come talk to me. If you’ve never had a good chile, come taste them and try them. You owe it to yourself.”
A favorite recipe from Chapo’s Chile Patch:  Stuffed Cheese and Bacon Chile Poppers
No quantities are listed here.  Adjust for the number you need!   The Strattons suggest about 4 pepper halves per person for an appetizer.
1)      Choose your pepper.  This recipe works well with Jalapenos or Santa Fe Grandes.  Cut peppers lengthwise and scoop out to your taste.  More seeds=more heat.
2)      Blend a cheese mixture of your choice (we prefer a soft, white, cheese like feta, soft goat cheese or cream cheese, you can also add grated sharp cheddar or monterrey jack).
3)      Crush and add your choice of nuts to cheese for extra flavor and consistency. 
4)      Bacon (optional).  Cook, crumble and mix in with cheese, OR wrap 1/3 slice of bacon around the stuffed pepper, pin with toothpicks.
5)      Grill over open flame until bacon is done, or bake on a foil-lined pan at 375 degrees about 20-25 minutes until hot (and if wrapped, bacon is cooked).
Let cool and enjoy!

Hot pepper note:  Capsaicin oil from chiles can burn eyes or skin.  Wear gloves or plastic baggies and wash hands after handling hot chile peppers. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Andy McIntosh: McIntosh Woods

By Kasey Jones
What he now does as a hobby, Andy McIntosh used to do to survive. McIntosh has been gardening for as long as he can remember, growing up on a small farm in South Unicoi County where he and his family would raise their own food and preserve as much as possible to eat through the winter. McIntosh says, “No matter what I’ve done as a career, I’ve always kept a garden and preserved food.”

After growing up on the family farm in Unicoi, McIntosh enlisted in the Army and served for three years during the early years of the Vietnam war. Upon his return, he got his teaching degree from ETSU and began teaching high school mathematics at Unicoi County High School.

After 10 years of teaching, McIntosh began a second career in industry with Nuclear Fuel Services, where he worked for 28 years. He retired approximately four years ago, settling into gardening, which he loves to do.

McIntosh has over an acre of land that he dedicates to gardening. He grows a little bit of everything that is typically found in a garden, as well as peach and apple trees.

“I’ve got some fruit trees,” he says, “I’ve got about six peach trees and some apple trees. I grow quite a few potatoes, a lot of tomatoes, a lot of beans and a mixture of everything else.”

Much of what McIntosh grows in his garden are the same foods that he and his family raised when he was growing up. McIntosh also uses the many of the same preservation methods that he and his family used on their farm.

“We always preserved a lot of foods when I was young,” McIntosh says. “We primarily canned foods, then freezers came along and we started freezing a lot of fresh fruit. So I continue to do that; I’ll can about anything!”

McIntosh also dries fruits and vegetables from his garden, though this is limited to a select few fruits and vegetables. The drying leaves the dried fruit or vegetable with more concentrated flavor than it would have were it eaten fresh. And dried produce must be reconstituted with water and then cooked.

“I dry some beans,” he says. “I have dried some fruit, but mostly beans. Not a lot of people do that anymore. They’re commonly called shuck beans or leather britches, they’re a green bean dried.”

While McIntosh enjoys much of his produce himself, he also sells a portion of it at the farmers market in Jonesborough, as well as at his farm, McIntosh Woods. McIntosh has been with the Jonesborough Farmers Market for about four years. While he and his family used to sell their produce at the farmers market in Asheville, N.C. during the late 1950s and early 1960s, this is the first farmers market that he has done during this stage of his life.

“This one [Jonesborough] is different in that everything here is locally grown,” he says. “The one in Asheville had produce from everywhere, more like the one in Johnson City, now. Produce might be coming out of Carolina, out of state somewhere, from Virginia, but I think if it’s a local market, it should be locally grown.”

McIntosh intends to garden as long as he can, enjoying both the food and the work.

“I just hope more people start gardening,” say McIntosh. “It’s great food.”

Freezing Vegetables (from
The best vegetables to freeze are fresh from the garden or farmers’ market and at their peak ripeness. Start by trimming and washing your vegetables under cold water. Remove any stems and wash under cold water. Peel if necessary. Cut to desired size, if necessary, according to their intended use (for example, carrots can be left whole or dice them for an easy soup addition). It is very important to blanch vegetables before freezing them. It stops the enzymes that keep vegetables ripening, helps get rid of dirt and bacteria, brightens color, slows vitamin and mineral loss, and wilts and softens the vegetables so they are easier to pack. To blanch vegetables, bring a large pot of water to a boil (use at least 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables). Add the vegetables to the water. Once the water returns to a boil, cook the vegetables 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and transfer them immediately to a bowl of ice water until they are completely chilled. Drain the vegetables well. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Just wash, peel (if desired) and remove the core.  

Choosing Containers
Frozen food can develop rancid flavors as a result of contact with air. Prevent this by choosing containers that are moisture- and vapor-proof. Opt for glass jars, metal containers, freezer bags or other plastic containers that are designed for storing frozen foods. If using plastic bags, be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing. A vacuum sealer is also useful for removing air and preserving quality.

There are two kinds of packing: solid-pack and loose-pack. To solid-pack produce, place prepared food in the desired container and freeze. Solid-packing conserves space and is useful when planning to use large batches of frozen vegetables or fruit at one time. To loose-pack, freeze one layer of fruit or vegetables on a cookie sheet. Once the produce is frozen, transfer it to the storage container. Loose-packing takes up more space, but it is easier to remove just the amount desired, such as a handful of peas or a cup of raspberries. Be sure to leave head space (open space at the top of the freezer container) when solid packing produce, as foods expand as they freeze. When loose-packing frozen foods, headspace is not necessary as the foods are already frozen. Moisture or food on the sealing edges of the container will prevent proper sealing, so wipe all edges clean before sealing. Label each container with the name and date packaged. Most frozen produce will keep for 8 to 12 months.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Jose Diaz

By Kasey Jones

Freedom is important to José Diaz. He raises his chickens free on his farm and his vegetables free of chemicals. Diaz also likes the freedom he has found in the U.S. to earn a living on his own land, not squeezed by the crowding and competition of his homeland.

Growing up in Carretero, Mexico, Diaz would help his father grow vegetables and care for their goats, horses and donkey. Diaz later moved to the United States, where he established legal residency in 1987.  “I like to work here,” says Diaz. “It’s easier. It’s easier for me. You can work very hard but make little in Mexico – $10 a day. I didn’t work there for very long … Too many people and not many jobs.”

After picking oranges in Florida, Diaz moved to the Tri-Cities area where he has worked at a number of jobs, including Scott’s farms in Unicoi to outdoor maintenance at the Johnson City Mall, but his passion is for farming, and in 1995 he purchased his own farm in Jonesborough.

“I raise animals,” says Diaz, “goats and chickens. And I grow vegetables.  The goats are Nubians for milk and meat. Eat them. Hamburgers. I sell to people direct from the farm. I have 20 goats. I had to raise less goats to do the vegetables, because they keep me really busy.”

Diaz grows corn, onions, beans, cilantro, squash and butternut squash. Instead of using chemicals or sprays on his plants, he uses the manure of his goats as fertilizer for some of his vegetables.

“I talked to a lady the other day and she said, ‘How much are your beans?’ And I said, ‘$50 a bushel.’ She said, ‘Over there, they’re $36.’ And I said, ‘Well, mine don’t have chemicals.’ She said, ‘Well, that doesn’t matter. They’re all the same. Chemicals don’t matter.’ Well, they do to me. I don’t want to chemical myself to death.”

While Diaz doesn’t make a lot of money from farming, he enjoys his work and raises organic crops for his own health, as well as the well-being of his customers.

“I’m happy to do it as long as I can,” he says. “People talk about, ‘You won’t get rich.’ I’ve never been rich. I don’t worry about it. I like to work with animals. I’m good with my hands. I’m not a mechanic. I can break a car. Farming keeps me healthy. I feel good about it. You’ve just got to get in there and do it. A lot of people don’t like this life, but I do.”

Diaz raises many of the vegetables and animals that he raised while living in Mexico. “We would raise corn and squash and goats,” Diaz says. “We would make cheese. My mother would make the cheese. We would work with the animals and she would make the cheese. It’s a lot of work. People would say, ‘Well, that little piece of cheese is expensive.’ Yeah. It’s a lot of work”

While Diaz primarily raises his goats for meat, he also uses their milk for his calves and pigs, as well as in “my own half-and-half.”   

Diaz has 175 free-range chickens that live on his farm. Because they are free-range, Diaz often has to hunt for the chickens’ nests and eggs.

“[My chickens] are loose from the morning all the way to 7:30 at night,” says Diaz. “They run around out there and they’re happy chickens. Right now I have around 100 little ones and 75 big ones – the ones that lay the eggs. They lay all over the place. Sometimes they hide eggs from me. There was one time for one or two weeks I couldn’t find them.  I didn’t have eggs to bring to the market because they were hiding them. Then one day I found three nests with 22 eggs in each place. After they lay some eggs in the nest, they go and make a new one. Chickens are funny .”

After having raised vegetables for most of his life, Diaz has learned that there isn’t always a strong correlation between hard work and good crops. He accepts this as a fact of life.

“I stay very busy all the time. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they do nothing. Sometimes you plant something and take good care of it and it won’t grow. Something you don’t think you care too much, it grows real nice. This happens. It’s in the farm.

“People tell me, ‘You aren’t going to get rich.’ But I say, ‘I eat well. I eat good.’”

Meet Diaz and find his free-range eggs and produce at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. On Saturday he will have one his Mexican specialties, tomatillos.

What is a tomatillo? If you’ve eaten salsa verde in a Mexican restaurant, you’ve eaten tomatillos. Though the name suggests that tomatillos are small green tomatoes, they are not. They’re in the same family as tomatoes but they are fruitier and more acidic than a regular green tomato.  Always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks, as they are not fully mature until they do. Remove the husks, then rinse the tomatillos, which will be sticky, and they’re ready to cook.

Look for tomatillos that are relatively small, about 1 1/2 ounces, or slightly larger than walnuts. Tomatillos are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde Recipe

To cook the tomatillos, you can either roast them in the oven, or boil them. Roasting will deliver more flavor; boiling may be faster and use less energy. Either way works, though boiling is a more common way to cook the tomatillos.


  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 Jalapeño peppers OR 2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped (you can use whole for more heat if you want)
  • Salt to taste

1. Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well.

2.  Cook using the method of your choice:

2a Oven Roasting Method Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

2b Pan Roasting Method Coat the bottom of a skillet with a little vegetable oil. Heat on high heat. Place the tomatillos in the pan and sear on one side, then flip over and brown on the other side. Remove from heat.

2c Boiling Method Place tomatillos in a saucepan, cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove tomatillos with a slotted spoon.

3 Place cooked tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, chili peppers, sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt. Cool in refrigerator.

Serve with chips or as a salsa accompaniment to Mexican dishes.  Mix with mashed avocado for lower-fat alternative to guacamole. 

Yield: Makes 3 cups.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pat Lynch: Peacock Artisan Breads

By Kasey Jones
For Pat Lynch, baking bread is more than just making and then baking bread dough. It’s a science. Over the years, the Erwin native has found that even the slightest alterations in oven temperature, humidity and moisture in the dough or amount of a certain ingredient can make a huge difference in the way that the bread turns out. Lynch’s various tweaks to her dough recipes and the way that she bakes the dough have made baking “a fun journey,” one that is different with each new endeavor.

Lynch has been cooking for as long as she can remember, but she began baking bread after she and her husband were married in 1966.  She and husband Johnny, mayor of town of Unicoi, own a business called Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens on their farm in Unicoi, Tenn., where they host and cater special events, including weddings, private parties, corporate events and all-day workshops.

In addition to cooking for these events, Lynch also is chef for her own family, making most of her meals from scratch, and doing the same for her catering business whenever she can.

“We have three kids and I’ve always cooked family meals and we’d always have dinner every night as they were growing up as long as they were living at home,” she says. “I’ve pretty much cooked all of my life. I’d like to just have a nickel for every biscuit that I’ve ever made.”

Lynch and her husband have lived on their farm since 1976, but have always enjoyed “the farming type atmosphere,” she says. Prior to opening Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens, they had a variety of different agricultural operations. At one point, they had a beef cattle operation with about 60 head of cattle. After that, they had a hog operation and would market nearly 1,000 hogs each year. They also grew about 50 acres of corn and would keep a half-acre to an acre of garden, Lynch says.

For about 15 years, Lynch baked bread in her commercial kitchen, but when her husband built an outdoor brick oven in an old log cabin that the town of Unicoi restored, Lynch – along with the town of Unicoi’s history group – began baking bread in the wood-fired oven as a fundraiser for the group.

“I enjoyed baking bread so much in that wood-fired oven that while [my husband] was in that mode, I got him to build one for us and added it to our kitchen since I was already baking bread at home all the time, anyway,” says Lynch. “We added that as another part of our business and it’s worked out really, really well.”

In that firebrick oven that Johnny built about a year-and-a-half ago, Lynch has been baking artisan breads that she sells at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Working with the brick oven has been a learning experience, but Lynch has had help along the way. “I’ve had a lot of fun,” says Lynch. “I learned from a book and from trial and error.  I’ve had people who’ve helped me through the last year-and-a-half…we have all enjoyed the learning and we just have a good time when we’re baking.” 

The dome portion of Lynch’s oven is about 13 inches thick and is shaped like a beehive. The day before she bakes the bread, she builds a fire in the oven and allows it to heat overnight. As the fire slowly burns, the walls and base of the oven soak up the heat. In the morning, Lynch rakes out the fire and wipes the bottom of the oven down with a damp rag to remove as much of the ash as she can. When she puts the dough in the oven to bake, the radiant heat emitted by the walls and base of the oven bake the dough.

“You can take that same loaf of bread and bake it in the brick oven or bake it in a convection oven or a regular oven,” says Lynch, “and it’s just the world of difference in the way it looks, and I think, too, the flavor.”

In addition to baking bread, hosting special events and catering, the Lynches have had peacocks on their farm for about four years. When Lynch decided to come up with a name for her bread-baking business, she chose the name Peacock Artisan Bread, “because … it just kind of fit.”

Just as she likes variety on her farm, Lynch also likes to experiment with various breads. In addition to making plain bread, Lynch also rolls dried fruits into her sourdoughs, makes cinnamon raisin breads and also uses the sourdough base for myriad other flavors. Her endeavors have been successful, and she sees a lot of returning customers. Lynch can bake 12-15 loaves at a time in her oven, and she normally makes 200 loaves per week.

Although learning to bake bread has been a process, Lynch has learned quite a bit along the way. “It’s just been a real experience and I’ve learned a lot about the science of bread baking … When you open that oven door, it’s a surprise every time.”