World Class Heat!


Published:

The surprising stories behind some of the South’s most iconic foods

While recently on a farm tour out to find the stories of the foods that connect us to the southern soil, I traveled from the northern tip of South Carolina where the Carolina Reaper pepper was created, to the coastal plains of southern Georgia where award-winning olive oil is made on Georgia Olive Farms, and found these two standouts that burst with as much flavor as they do history.

The Carolina Reaper Pepper

“I can’t promise you anything, but if you can be here at 6:30 tomorrow morning, we’ll see. Drive up to the farm. Meet us at the greenhouse,” says Heidi, the executive assistant to Ed Currie, developer of the Carolina Reaper pepper and founder of the PuckerButt Pepper Company.   

It’s worth the risk of an empty trek to Ft. Mill, South Carolina, so I make the drive in hopes of seeing the infamous pepper and meeting its innovator. The Carolina Reaper has been certified by the Guiness Book of World Records since 2013 as the hottest pepper in the world at 1.7 million on the Scoville scale of heat. 

I walk in to the greenhouse as I wait, expecting to see the famed, weapon-grade, neon red peppers. I stand among the rows up to my neck in pepper plants and don’t see any peppers. Slowly, it dawns on me that the branches that I am brushing against hang heavy with the still green, wrinkled, twisted, blistered-looking peppers -- each sporting a devil’s tail. I am concerned that their oil is on my skin. When Ed appears, I tell him that I did not know there were peppers on the plants. “What do you think we grow in here, pecans?” he laughs.  

He cross-bred a pepper that a friend brought him from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent with the most fiery pepper from Pakistan procured for him by a doctor from that region. Ten years after Ed crossed these two peppers, a geneticist declared his Carolina Reaper a stable breed.

A television crew is waiting for Smokin’ Ed Currie to finish his brief session with me. They have come to town to follow him as he hosts the inaugural Carolina Reaper Challenge, a pepper-eating contest. Fans and participants come from as far away as Australia to the world headquarters of PuckerButt Pepper Company on Main Street for this event.

I ask if there are people who eat these peppers beyond the tortured participants of his contest. He says,

“Oh yes, I eat them every day with my dinner. And I’m not alone by any stretch of the imagination.”

For the health conscious masochist, it’s good to note that they are organic.

Georgia Olive Farms

Many southern cooks may have olive oil from Spain, Italy or Greece in the pantry, but the United States has its own source of award-winning olive oil in South Georgia: Georgia Olive Farms. 

“Perhaps more surprising is the sheer number of people who drive all the way out to see the olive orchards and buy olive oil directly from us here at the farm,” says Brandi Bennett, manager of the co-op in Lakeland, Georgia. 

Bennett has been there since the founding of the co-op of five farms. The farmers banded together in search of something else to grow when the state experienced an overproduction of blueberries. They discovered that the same equipment could be used to harvest olives.

The farmers in the southeastern part of the state, near Valdosta, planted the olive trees in 2009 and got their first harvest in 2011. There are three different kinds of olives grown on Georgia Olive Farms. The sandy soil of the coastal plains region of Georgia, along with the temperature, mirrors the growing conditions of its Mediterranean counterparts.

“We planted Arbequina, Koroneiki, and Arbosana olive trees because they yield such high quality oils,” says Bennett. “We sourced our olive production equipment from an Italian manufacturer.” 

Although, the Georgia-grown olive oil is a baby in an ancient industry, it has quickly garnered recognition and is used by James Beard award-winning chefs like Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston and Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. 

The secret may be that what appears to be new is in fact old in origin. Spanish missionaries planted olive trees near St. Simon Island’s lighthouse. The reason the olive oil industry didn’t flourish in the South at the time was two-fold: It was disrupted by the Civil War, and it required intense work with low-yield. 

In essence, the purity of the product is the result of thousands of years of cultivation brought to the New World. Georgia Olive Farms offer two types of olive oils: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the Chef’s Blend Extra Virgin featuring Arbequina olives.  •

Subscribe now to the print edition or get instant access to our interactive digital edition.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

South's Greatest Chefs 2020

Our 14th annual contest is back! Nominate your favorite chef (or yourself) for South magazine’s Greatest Chefs contest!

South's Greatest Pets 2020

South magazine is seeking the greatest pets of the South! Nominate your pet NOW through June 17th at midnight!
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Events Calendar

  • A Savannah Scavenger Hunt: Historic Savannah Adventure

    Feb 19, 2020
    8:00 AM - 10:00 PM @ Savannah

    Explore beautiful Savannah. Steeped in Civil War history, you will be sure to find some new-to-you spots. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a...

  • #iSPYtogether Summer Challenge

    Jun 01, 2020
    12:00 AM - 11:45 PM @ Savannah Power Yoga

    We’re in this together! We’re experiencing a shift in the world together, and together we can keep each other healthy and connected in the...

  • Afternoons at the Aquarium

    Jun 25, 2020
    All Day @ UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium

    Every Thursday in June and July, marine educators at the UGA Aquarium will host virtual programs designed to inspire wonder and curiosity about the...

  • The Society of Bluffton Artists(SOBA) 2020 Summer Art Camp

    Jun 22, 2020
    All Day @ Society of Bluffton Artists

    The Society of Bluffton Artists (SOBA)’s 2020 Summer Art Camp for kids is now taking registrations. The art camp runs from 9-11 a.m....

  • Free Fort Pulaski Days

    Jan 20, 2020
    All Day @ Fort Pulaski National Monhument

    Fort Pulaski National Monument will have six entrance fee-free days in 2020. The dates for 2020 are: ● Monday, January 20 – Martin...

  • On the Spot Murder Mystery Show

    Jun 26, 2020
    6:30 PM - 9:30 PM @ Savannah Coffee Roasters

    On The Spot Murder Mystery Dinner Show hosted by The Odd Lot Improv Team at Savannah Coffee Roasters, 6:30 p.m. An entirely improvised...

  • Free Yoga at CQ Forsyth Park

    Jun 22, 2020
    All Day @ Collins Quarter at Forsyth

    Are you ready to flow under the iconic Spanish Moss?  Beginning this Friday June 12, Collins Quarter at Forsyth along with Savannah Yoga...

  • Libertea High Tea

    Jun 24, 2020
    10:00 AM - 3:00 PM @ Savannah Coffee Roasters

    Wednesdays and Saturdays: Sit back and relax around the open fire and enjoy delicious pastries, cakes, chocolates and savory delights from our...

  • 4th of July Dinner & Fireworks Cruise

    Jul 04, 2020
    7:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Savannah Riverboat Cruises

    Celebrate our Nation’s Independence with Savannah Riverboat Cruises!  Join us on board for a — one of a kind...

  • 4th of July Fireworks Cruise

    Jul 04, 2020
    8:00 PM - 10:30 PM @ Savannah Riverboat Cruises

    Join in on the fun as we celebrate the 4th of July! During the one-and-a-half hour cruise, dance to the music of our Riverboat DJ spinning...

  • July 4th Fireworks at Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds

    Jul 04, 2020
    9:45 PM - 10:30 PM @ Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds

    The prettiest place to watch fireworks on the 4th is at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds! Family-friendly and plenty of room for everyone to spread...

  • Savannah Firecracker 5k

    Jul 04, 2020
    All Day @ How 2 Run

    This July 4th enjoy a unique event celebrating our independence day. We are running RWB style, carrying the American flag. We are purchasing 100...

  • Bonaventure Cemetery After Hours July 4th Weekend

    Jul 04, 2020
    All Day @ Bonaventure Cemetary

      Lose the ghost tour crowds & come to the uninterruptedness and exclusivity of Savannah's ONLY After Hours Cemetery Tour...

  • It's A Girl's World

    Jul 04, 2020
    All Day @ Rotary Community Center

    It’s a Girl’s WORLD 2020: a tour that will visit many places! Everything a girl wants all at one show. Shop, Eat, Drink, Inspire &...

  • I Pledge for Ice Cream

    Jul 06, 2020
    4:00 PM - 7:00 PM @ Leopold's Ice Cream

    As a sweet way to say, “Thank You for Your Patriotism,” Leopold’s Ice Cream will give any child at or below the age of 12 (accompanied by an...

  • Prohibition Cocktail Classes

    Jun 22, 2020
    6:00 PM @ American Prohibition Museum

    Monday & Tuesday evening from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Prohibition Cocktail Classes at Congress Street Up inside the American Prohibition Museum....

  • Savannah African Art Museum to Reopen

    Jul 08, 2020
    11:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Savannah African Art Museum

    The Savannah African Art Museum (SAAM) is excited to begin welcoming back visitors on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. The museum will open for its normal...

  • Girl Scout QuestFest

    Jul 18, 2020
    All Day @ Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia

    This year's QuestFest will be a virtual scavenger hunt! Both competitive and noncompetitive teams are searching for experiences, not items....

  • Puppy Yoga Time

    Jul 18, 2020
    All Day @ Ghost Coast Distillery

    Join Coastal Pet Rescue and Christine Graeber at Ghost Coast Distillery for another round of fun! Seriously though, cute...

  • Walk with the Turtles: Ossabaw Island

    Jul 20, 2020
    8:00 AM - 2:00 AM @ Delegal Creek Marina Skidaway Island

    Depart 8:00 am from Delegal Creek Marina on Skidaway Island, just outside of Savannah. After a 30-minute boat ride across Ossabaw Sound, arrive on...


Show More...

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scenes of the South

Danny Merritt 2020 Election Watch Party

Danny Merritt held his election watch party at Coach's Corner in Savannah, Georgia on Tuesday, June 9th. Merritt ran for Congress for District 1 against incumbent Buddy Carter.

FACES OF THE SOUTH — THE TRILOGY GALLERY 5

This is not a celebration. It is not a salute. This, readers, is a manifesto. It is a bold declaration of the richness of the South, of the majestic talents, relentless ambition and singular vision that reside just behind each face you pass in your travels. These are the faces of the people who are creating the new South through the sweat of their brow and the depth of their passions. But if you never look closer you may never know how deep that passion goes, and what it has accomplished.

FACES OF THE SOUTH — THE TRILOGY GALLERY 4

This is not a celebration. It is not a salute. This, readers, is a manifesto. It is a bold declaration of the richness of the South, of the majestic talents, relentless ambition and singular vision that reside just behind each face you pass in your travels. These are the faces of the people who are creating the new South through the sweat of their brow and the depth of their passions. But if you never look closer you may never know how deep that passion goes, and what it has accomplished.

FACES OF THE SOUTH — THE TRILOGY GALLERY 2

This is not a celebration. It is not a salute. This, readers, is a manifesto. It is a bold declaration of the richness of the South, of the majestic talents, relentless ambition and singular vision that reside just behind each face you pass in your travels. These are the faces of the people who are creating the new South through the sweat of their brow and the depth of their passions. But if you never look closer you may never know how deep that passion goes, and what it has accomplished.

FACES OF THE SOUTH — THE TRILOGY GALLERY 3

This is not a celebration. It is not a salute. This, readers, is a manifesto. It is a bold declaration of the richness of the South, of the majestic talents, relentless ambition and singular vision that reside just behind each face you pass in your travels. These are the faces of the people who are creating the new South through the sweat of their brow and the depth of their passions. But if you never look closer you may never know how deep that passion goes, and what it has accomplished.

FACES OF THE SOUTH — THE TRILOGY GALLERY 1

This is not a celebration. It is not a salute. This, readers, is a manifesto. It is a bold declaration of the richness of the South, of the majestic talents, relentless ambition and singular vision that reside just behind each face you pass in your travels. These are the faces of the people who are creating the new South through the sweat of their brow and the depth of their passions. But if you never look closer you may never know how deep that passion goes, and what it has accomplished.

February Brews for a Cause

February's Brews for a Cause was held at the Drayton Hotel on Thursday, February 27th. South Magazine and Southern Eagle teamed up to raise money through a large silent auction for the Savannah Ambucs organization. Craft Beer samplings from Wild Leap Brewing, alongside appetizers from the Drayton Hotel were offered to guests.

2020 Southern Coast Heart Ball

The American Heart Association held its annual Southern Coast Heart Ball on Saturday, February 8th at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa. Guests enjoyed a cocktail reception with a silent auction, dinner and program, and dancing to end the evening. All proceeds went to the Open Your Heart campaign.

4th Annual Hearts for Healing Gala

Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center held its Fourth Annual Hearts for Healing Gala on Friday, February 7th at the Tybee Island Wedding Chapel. Guests enjoyed gourmet dining, dancing, and a silent auction. All proceeds from the auction benefitted the Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center's program for individuals with disabilities.

IDC Benefits the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire

The LeClerc Family owners of IDC (International Diamond Center) in Savannah 349 Mall Blvd held a benefit to support the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire on Thursday, February 6th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Guests enjoyed light food and drinks, while bidding on several silent auction items, including autographed footballs and helmets donated by Anthony Lanier II.