Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A chili January in Orange County

People today don't always think of peppers as one of Orange County's historically important crops, but they certainly were. At the industry's peak, in 1930, O.C. produced 9,433 tons of peppers!
Today's photos show a chili pepper drying plant in Huntington Beach in January 1947. The images come from the Bob Geivet collection at the Old Courthouse Museum, and are marked "E.C. Fogal," who I assume might be the plant's owner.
Note the pallets full of peppers being stacked in the photo above, and the dehydrator that stack was placed into in the photo below. Charles E. Utt of Tustin invented the first "chili house dehydrator" around 1905. (It was a variation on his earlier peanut dehydrator, which had burned down.) Previously, peppers had been dried in the sun. Little, if anything, of our once-impressive chili pepper empire still remains today. Housing tracts and strip malls cover most of the fields where they once were grown. Today, asking around for chili peppers in Orange County will get you pointed toward a grocery store or to the excellent Chili Pepper restaurant in Orange.
(Tip of the hat to Jim Sleeper's Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities for some of these peppery facts.)


Doug said...

Leroy Doig, in his book "The Town of Garden Grove"(Pioneer Press 1966),gave a great description of the chili industry in Garden Grove and Anaheim in the 1920s. He stated the "first instance of chili raising was said to have been among the German farmers of Anaheim (c.1906). Later Doig states that "In 1910 in all of California there were only 55 chili growers who farmed a total of 417 acres of land. By 1919 Orange County alone had 5600 acres devoted to the cultivation of the crop".
The chili drying houses in 1920s/30s in Garden Grove are described at being somewhat standardized in construction and operation. Generally the drying sheds were (wood) frame buildings 30 x 40 feet, with excavated cellars where natural gas burners were installed.
There was a Japanese Chili Association which had a large chili drying plant near Magnolia and Garden Grove Blvd.
Being an alumni of Garden Grove High School, I am aware that before our sports teams were called the Argonauts, they were first the "Chili Peppers"

Chris Jepsen said...

Good stuff, Doug! I should have thought to check Doig.

Doug said...

Link which describes the Japanese Chili Association. There is also a photo of a drying shed/structure.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Maybe they should have named the place Chili County....

Sorry, I couldn't resist

Have you ever done a spot on Atlantis Park in Garden Grove?

Doug said...

Hey Pasadena,
I just asked Chris about Atlantis Park last week.

Chris Jepsen said...

Doug and Pasadena: Let me work on that a bit. I thought I'd just poke around and come up with the story. But it seems the origins of Atlantis Park are a bit more complicated than I thought. I will keep working on it.

For the record, I had my (8th?) birthday party there. That park was one of my favorite places as a kid.

sandy arevalos said...

I was so excited to see those pictures. The man you are referring to, E.C. Fogal was my Uncle. My name is Sandy Arevalos and I live in Double Adobe(McNeal),Arizona and live on the farm where my Uncle Ed started the Chili Dehydrator. My Uncle asked my Dad (who was his brother-in-law)to move here and start farming for him. Our family moved here from Fountain Valley, CA in 1954-55. I would be interested in more information on the history if you don't mind. My email address is sandyja07@hotmail.com. Thank you.

Unknown said...

In relation to the location of the old power plant, where do you live or in relation to the location of the old Double Adobe School ?? I think I remember the name Fogal too.

Chilling memories.

Unknown said...

Chili Products was located in Westminster on Magnolia St just a few hundred yards south of Westminster Blvd. Standard Foods of Chicago bought them out in the 1960s.

At some later date the plant closed down and the property became a mobile home park. The large property at Westminster Blvd between Magnolia and Brookhurst was a WWII training Airport where the present high school was constructed in the early 60s.