Pam Shelburn grows some of the hottest peppers in the world on her property in Stafford, Missouri: ghost peppers, Trinidad “Butch T” Scorpion and Carolina Reaper. In Springfield, she’s simply known as “The Pepper Lady,” and she affectionately refers to her loyal customers as “Pepper Heads.”
Carolina Reaper peppers were formerly the world’s hottest pepper, clocking in at 2.2 million units on the Scoville scale, but its creator released a hotter pepper in September 2017, Pepper X, at 3.18 million Scoville. Shelburn can’t wait to get her hands on it. “We’re just really into hot peppers,” she says with a laugh.
Shelburn first got into growing peppers with her husband, Bill, on their family farm. She wanted to add some heat to her homemade cheese, so they started with ghost peppers. Today, through her business, Pam’s Hot Peppers, she sells her hot peppers alongside “not hots,” such as poblano, Anaheim, cayenne and banana peppers. The Shelburns vend at the Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market, selling their fresh peppers alongside pepper powders, dehydrated peppers, salt and seasoning grinders and, new this year, powdered dip mixes. She also sells individual-sized loaves of corn bread, some flavored with peppers including jalapeño, ghost and Carolina Reaper.
The Shelburns also sell a range of produce, from beans, beets and carrots to eggplant, potatoes, okra and more. Their pepper products are also sold online, with customers from Carolina to California seeking out Shelburn’s super spicy specialties.
The salt and seasoning grinders, in flavors such as sea salt-Carolina Reaper and sea salt-ghost pepper, were new to the market last year. Shelburn got the idea from her grandson, who wanted to make and sell salt grinders to raise money for charity. “He was taking them to elementary school and selling them, but I had to stop letting him sell the ghost-pepper grinder because kids were putting it on their lunches!” she laughs.
Her pepper powders include Butch T Scorpion, Carolina Reaper, chipotle, fish, ghost, habanero, Hawaiian sweet hot, Hotter than Hades, jalapeño, Naga Viper, Sapporo and Scotch Bonnet. Shelburn says she prefers the powders to the dehydrated peppers generally, as they allow home cooks more control when adding heat to dishes.
“Ghost is my favorite,” she says. “I carry it with me – like if we go to a Mexican restaurant, we take our ghost powder so we can spice up the salsa; it’s never hot enough. You can just sprinkle a little or a lot and it’s easy to control.”
At the market, Shelburn arranges her products in order of heat and invites customers to sample various levels. “We have one guy who will buy every habanero we have every week; he’s from Jamaica. He boils them up, makes sauce and eats it on everything. We tried to get him to move up a level, but he won’t buy the ghost,” she laughs.
Beginning April 10, when the Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market expands its hours for the summer season, you can catch Shelburn and her products on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8am to noon. And don’t worry, if you sample something that’s too hot, Shelburn knows what to do.
“People say to drink milk if you eat something too hot, but honey works better,” Shelburn says. “Honey coats your mouth and it seems to work so much better than milk. When people try my hot pepper powders at the market, and if they’re like dying, I’ll say, ‘There’s the honey lady; go see her!”
Pam’s Hot Peppers, Stafford, Missouri, pamsproduce.com