2016-09-01 / Dishing

Pepper Rally

Anne Quinn Corr | Photos by Matt Fern

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up a jar of Suhey Peppers. I’d seen the jars in local markets for years and just passed them by, hooked on my own version of Randy Barger’s Peppers in Tomato Sauce, my go-to hot stuff. Never again. There’s room enough for two types of peppers on the shelf, and my pepper fascism days are over.

Opening the jar and seeing three cloves of garlic on top of the shaved yellow and red banana peppers stirred love at first sight. Tasting the product on a bit of Brie on top of a slice of baguette proved a match made in heaven, and I was hooked. The first jar lasted almost a week, and I knew when I was topping my poached egg with them in the morning that I had to slow down... or buy more.

Paul Suhey laughs when I describe my sudden and complete infatuation with his product. “Yeah, that’s how we all were with them. I eat about a half a jar a day, on pretty much everything.”

Ginger Suhey, Paul’s mom, got the original recipe for the peppers from the Fornicola family in Bellefonte back in the 1960s and tweaked it over the years to make it her own.  “Mom would put together a batch at night, while having a glass of wine, adding a little of this, a little of that,” reminisces Paul, about the family matriarch who passed away five years ago at the age of 84.

“Growing up, our family tradition was to make them every August with local banana peppers that she marinated overnight in olive oil and a blend of spices with whole garlic cloves. We kept asking her to write down the recipe and finally she did. The secret is the olive oil. Most hot peppers are in water and vinegar.”

The tradition outgrew the family kitchen in the 1990s and moved to Paul’s garage. By this time family and friends helped in the annual pepper party, producing 300 to 500 jars at a time — but it still wasn’t enough. “We’d make a big batch in late August and then we’d have it all through the fall, but around the holidays we’d look at each other and say, ‘Now what?’ We had to wait until next year to have them again. We now have a co-packer in Tamqua, PA, Grouse Hunt Farms Inc, that packs her recipe to our specifications.”  

The production run that occurs during a two-week window of time in August when the peppers are at their peak is always attended by a Suhey family member who takes part in the process. “It can be hot in there,” says Paul, who enjoys the annual trek and working with Penn State alum Paul Zukovich and his son, Derek, who own the business. “We have become good friends over the years.”  

Paul Suhey, Larry Campolongo, Dennis Rallis, Ginger Suhey, Tom Sallade, Larry Suhey and Fritz Wild. Photo courtesy Paul Suhey.Paul Suhey, Larry Campolongo, Dennis Rallis, Ginger Suhey, Tom Sallade, Larry Suhey and Fritz Wild. Photo courtesy Paul Suhey.The Suheys, considered by many the “First Family of Penn State Football,” have had seven family members play football for Penn State in the past century. Ginger’s father, Bob Higgins, played for Penn State in 1914, ’15, ’16, and ’19, serving in World War I from 1916 to 1919, and was named an All-American in 1919. Higgins later coached at Penn State from 1930 to 1948. Steve Suhey was on the squad in the 1940s, though his career there was also interrupted by a World War when he served three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Steve returned and resumed play on the football field; he was named MVP of the 1948 Cotton Bowl Classic against SMU. He married the coach’s daughter in 1949. The couple had seven children and begat a football empire. Three of their four sons, Larry, Paul and Matt, played football at Penn State during the glory years of the 1970s, and two grandsons, Kevin and Joe, also played for the Nittany Lions in the 2000s.

All those football games required a prodigious amount of tailgate entertaining for Ginger, and the hot peppers were her go-to recipe. “Our favorite way to eat them is on a cracker with cheese and pepperoni,” says Paul, “and best to have a beer/water/iced tea close by. ”

Paul Suhey’s son, Paul, aka “Spuds,” is involved with the marketing aspect of the business and came up with the tagline, “Because your food gets lonely.” As a new fan, I can say that my food will never be lonely again. •SCM

While lists several creative recipes for the peppers, they don’t require any cooking at all and amp up the heat and authenticity of a Penn State football tailgate by their very presence. Suhey Peppers are available at Weis supermarkets and at several other locales, including Tait Farm, Fasta & Ravioli Co., Mount Nittany Winery, The Original Waffle Shop, McLanahan’s and HoneyBaked Ham in State College. They are also available at DiBruno Brothers in the Philadelphia area and can be ordered online.

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