Gloria Lopez and her peppers share roots that go back generations and reach as far as Spain. And after years of cultivation, her family and heirloom peppers continue to grow.
Lopez’s grandfather immigrated to the United States back in 1920. After living on the east coast, he made his way to Winters and brought his seeds with him. Meanwhile, Lopez’s grandmother made her way to Winters from across the Pacific. And with the perfect conditions in California’s Mediterranean climate, the family and peppers took root.
“Every year my grandpa would plant peppers and save the seed for the next year,” Lopez recalled her family tradition. “He did that every year and my father carried it on as well as my brothers. We’re all growing peppers from seeds 100 years ago.”
Cultivating heirloom peppers, however, is a meticulous and time-consuming process. A process that Lopez has gotten so good at it has earned her the nickname “La Señora de los Pemientos.”
“Every Feb. 1, I plant 1,000 plants. Sometimes they take three to four weeks to germinate in the greenhouse. By mid to late April I have plants ready to put into the garden,” Lopez said. “It’s time and labor-intensive and only a few people have been successful at propagating it themselves.”
With a strict pepper-picking policy of her hands only, Lopez ensures the cream of the crop survives. It’s the pride she – and the rest of her family – takes in growing the peppers that make it such an emotional experience.
“I have a real emotional attachment to them,” Lopez talked about her yearly ritual. “In February it’s cold, but I’m in my greenhouse warm and talking to my dad and grandpa.”
When the peppers are picked, they’re shipped to the kitchen where Lopez uses them to whip up some of her favorite Spanish cuisine.
“I like cooking with peppers and roast them all the time. I build a fire and char the peppers, then I peel them and use them in a lot of Spanish foods,” Lopez said about the delicious fruits of her labor. “These are sweet peppers, not the spicy kind. That’s why you never want to grow these besides the hot variety because it’ll ruin the sweet peppers.”
With her long-standing relationship with mother nature, Lopez continues to cultivate her family’s peppers. And with every passing season, her Spanish roots in the Winters’ soil only grow stronger.