December 08, 2016

Here’s the story of a culinary experience you’ve almost certainly had - with a backstory you may not know as well.

It’s the tale of a Maryland boy – Edmund – who moved to Louisiana in the mid 1800s, became very wealthy as a banker, and then faced total economic collapse during the Civil War.

Edmund waited out a chunk of War in Texas, and then came back home to Louisiana with almost nothing left.

His wife’s family had been wealthy plantation owners, so they, of course, had very little left too.

One of the only things they did have was a spot called Avery Island, which wasn’t great for growing most crops, and had been pretty much decimated by Union soldiers.

Plus – just to add to the general discontent in the family - Edmund’s in-laws didn’t actually like him all that much.

So Edmund was given one of the least important jobs on Avery Island – since the important ones went to people in his wife’s family. He was assigned to tend the garden.

What he discovered in that garden, as it turned out, changed American cuisine.

It was a crop he knew nothing about, but that he kind of remembered planting a few of before the War.

And it’s named after the Mexican state where it comes from.

Listen to the segment to find out what it was… and how it helped make American cuisine just a little bit more picante.

innovation hub, NPR, pri, Kara Miller, WGBH

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