Hilario “Larry” Alvarez is a jolly rancher who grows 155 kinds of peppers on his farm in Mabton, Washington. He has grown all his peppers organically since he started Alvarez Farm in 1992, and credits organic farming with making his business successful. About 25 of Alvarez’s peppers (which sell for $1.99 to $10 per pound, depending on the variety) don’t even have names, and 20 are not found anywhere else in the United States, partly due to natural cross-pollination. “Sometimes a red pepper plant and a yellow pepper plant are planted across from each other and they mix and you get a new pepper that’s a different color and shape,” he explains. Son Eddie Alvarez, who brings the peppers to Seattle area farmers’ markets, says he believes Alvarez Farm is the only organic pepper farm in the state.
This month, keep an eye out for Alvarez’s red Padrón peppers, which took serious foodies by storm last year. Often used in Spanish tapas, they are “very juicy, sweet and hot,” says Hilario, who notes that about one in 10 Padróns—named for the region in Spain where they originated—will be muy caliente. The fully grown peppers, about the size of bell peppers, are ripe from mid-July until first frost. They preserve easily and freeze well. You’ll find them from July through November at the Pike Place Market, and also at the Ballard, Broadway, Columbia City, Magnolia, Lake City and Lake Forest Park farmers’ markets. Prices vary, but will generally be around $2 a pound. The farm in Mabton—between Yakima and the Tri-Cities—offers U-pick peppers on weekdays from September through October (509.837.2381).
Originally published in July 2010