Vickroy: Jimmy Doyle’s garden tour is smokin’
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 August 29, 2012 7:58PM
Jim Doyle looks over his Fatalii peppers growing at his home in Tinley Park, Illinois, Thursday, August 23, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
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Jimmy Doyle’s peppers,
Updated: October 1, 2012 3:09PM
Jimmy Doyle’s Chili Pepper Garden Tour is red hot.
Not to be confused with a certain funk rock band’s schedule, Doyle’s tour is rooted in the Southland. Literally.
For two decades, Doyle has been growing rare chili peppers all over his Tinley Park property. Pequin, Corno di Toro Giallo, Louisiana hot, Fatalii, Afghan, Thai, yellow Peru. Of course, he also has standard jalapenos and bells.
But it’s the heirloom peppers that are his pride and joy.
He’s more than happy to give you a tour, which starts in his front yard, winds into the back and often culminates in a taste test and some souvenir peppers or seeds to take home.
“Some say you’re closer to God when working on the ground,” Doyle said. “Either way, gardening should be your escape from the rat race.”
And, depending on how brave you are, gardening peppers can be your taste buds’ descent into one fiery world of flavor.
For Doyle, gardening is both a hobby and a mission from God. His duty, he says, is to inspire others to nurture their green thumbs.
He does that, he said, by sharing. He shares the crops, the seeds and the inspiration.
A member of the Seed Savers Exchange, Doyle makes his own pepper jellies, ristras and hot sauces, which he sells under the label “Flames of the Holy Spirit” at local fairs and events. Each jar comes with a free pack of seeds.
“The best thing is when people buy my hot sauce, they get a free pack of seeds so they can go home, grow their own peppers, make their own hot sauce and sell it to me,” he said.
In addition to canning, drying and freezing, Doyle uses his peppers to freshen up leftovers and add flavor to pastas, omelets and sandwiches, particularly Italian beef.
“When I was in grad school, people used to bring in their harvests and leave them, free for the taking. I said way back then, ‘Some day I want to do that,’ ” he said.
He chooses pepper varieties for all kinds of reasons: Sometimes because they’re rare, sometimes because they acquire a neat color, and sometimes simply because they have a catchy name, such as “tangerine pimento” or “lipstick sweet pepper.”
The hottest peppers on his property are the Thai chili, the white habanero, the Iroquois warrior and the Jamaican large red, which Doyle said is “diesel fuel — more pain than pleasure.”
In addition to placing at different levels on the Scoville Scale for hotness, Doyle said, each pepper has its own taste.
The lluvia grande, which are tiny despite their name, have “a nice black pepper taste,” he said. The Afghan tastes like cayenne pepper.
Doyle also grows tomatoes, garlic, onions and herbs, many of which he uses to flavor his hot sauces.
Sometimes he trades ristras or rare peppers with local restaurants, including El Cortez in Country Club Hills.
“I got a few drinks in exchange,” he said.
He’s also growing hops for a friend who brews his own beer.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a few bottles of beer out of it,” he said.
Doyle plants, cooks and cans, and sometimes wears his hobby to work.
“A default thing: I get a lot of pepper things for Christmas,” he said. He often wears one of his many chili pepper ties to his day job, which is selling cars at Planet Honda in Matteson.
Doyle is a former English professor at South Suburban College, the University of St. Francis and Western Illinois University. He and his wife, Lisa, have a son, Matt, 9.
Matt says he’s tried the infamous habanero, considered to be among the hottest in the world.
“I had to drink eight glasses of water after,” he said.
In addition to constantly being on the lookout for new kinds of chilies to grow, Doyle is always trying new gardening techniques. He recently started staggering plantings, which takes his harvesting well into cooler months. He also brings plants indoors to winter, giving him a head start on the following spring’s growing season.
He says he could spend more time concentrating on his pepper-inspired products.
“Maybe when I retire I will focus more on the sauces, and I will have pallets and pallets of hot sauce to sell,” he said. “But for now, the fun is out here in the yard.”