Maybe you enjoy a little bit of salsa with your meal, or get a kick out of daring your friends to take a bite from the hottest chile you can find, but despite how much of a fan you think you are of chile peppers, I doubt you can out-fan Dr. Fabian Garcia.
The son of “humble” parents, Garcia was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1871 and became an orphan at an early age. At 2 years old his grandmother brought him to New Mexico, where he spent most of his time. At the age of nine he claims to have narrowly escaped an Apache raid.
Garcia became a horticulturalist and took on the position of first director of New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in 1914. He was only one of two people in the early 20th century to experiment with chile peppers. During this time he successfully produced the first reliable chile pod, from which came the hot Sandia pepper (pictured top right).
According to the university website, the first land purchase of 23.16 acres for what would become NMSU’s Fabian Garcia Research Center was made in 1906. Now spanning 41.10 acres, the Center in 1992 welcomed the addition of the Chile Pepper Institute, where Garcia’s work on chile peppers continues to this day.
Over the span of his career, which spanned more than 50 years, Dr. Garcia built the foundation for what is now New Mexico’s $400 chile pepper industry. He is known as the father of the U.S. Mexican food industry, and was inducted into the American Society for Horticultural Science Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Institute divides its work between preserving seeds of both cultivated and wild species of chile peppers, studying diseases that affect the plants, and furthering its position as a source for knowledge of chile peppers. This work led to the discovery of the hottest chile in the world, the Bhut Jolokia, and in 2006 the Institute received recognition from the Guinness Book of Records.
Interesting fact: In his 1846 survey of the cuisine of the people just north of Albuquerque, Chief Engineer of the Army’s Topographic Unit William Emory wrote, “Chile the Mexicans consider the chef-d’oeuvre of the cuisine, and seem really to revel in it; but the first mouthful brought the tears trickling down my cheeks, very much to the amusement of the spectators with their leather-lined throats. It was red pepper, stuffed with minced meat.” And according to an NMSU research report, it seems Garcia took note of this, stating that a milder chile would encourage the Anglo population to adopt the chile pepper in their cuisine.
“Albuquerque’s Food History is All About Chiles.” Retrieved 30 July 2012.
Coon, Danise; Votava, Eric; Bosland, Paul W. The Chile Cultivars of New Mexico State University Released from 1913 to 2008. Research Report 763. pg. 1
“Fabian Garcia.” Retrieved 30 July 2012.
Fabian Garcia Science Center. Accessed 30 July 2012.
“Pioneering NMSU father of U.S.-Mexican food industry enshrined in national Horicultural Science Hall of Fame.” Retrieved 30 July 2012.
The Chile Pepper Institute. Accessed 30 July 2012.