Living Local: Suhey Peppers

March 2, 2014 

For many years, the Suhey family packed pecks of peppers in the confines of a garage.

What would become Suhey Peppers, jarred and sold locally and online, started as a summer tradition at the Suhey home in State College in the 1960s.

Every August, the family matriarch, Ginger Suhey, and her children donned gloves, sliced farm-fresh banana peppers and let them marinate overnight in her special blend of spices, garlic cloves and olive oil before canning.

“The smell of the peppers was unbelievable,” Larry Suhey said. “Your nose would start running.”

The Suhey name has long been associated with Penn State football. Steve Suhey, a former Nittany Lion and NFL player, married former Penn State coach Bob Higgins’ daughter.

Their three sons — Larry, Matt and Paul, all local high school stars — also lettered for Penn State in the 1970s. Paul was the co-captain of the 1979 squad, and Matt went on to 10 years with the Chicago Bears.

The program added a third generation with Joe and Kevin, the respective sons of Matt and Paul.

Three years ago, the football-famous surname came to be a pepper brand.

As Paul Suhey recalls, the tradition from his childhood switched to his garage in the 1990s. Family and friends, joining forces for an annual pepper party, eventually produced 300 to 500 jars — a fair amount on the surface but just barely enough to last the football tailgating season.

The annual shortage convinced the family to start a business.

“I think it’s the fact that we like them so much,” said Paul Suhey, an orthopedic surgeon and former Penn State trustee.

“We spent eight months of the year not having them. We’d eat them all and give them away to friends, and we’d have to wait eight months to have them again.”

Now, the peppers are prepared at a plant in Tamaqua in eastern Schuylkill County. Production tops 2,000 cases, at a dozen jars each.

But the original recipe, brought from Italy by the Fornicola family of Bellefonte and given to the Suheys, hasn’t changed.

Paul Suhey said that his mother, who died in 2011, would season the peppers by memory, tweaking the recipe year to year, often while sipping wine with friends.

“We finally got mom to write it down,” he said.

Both he and Larry Suhey said immersing their peppers in olive oil with a touch of vinegar, instead of water and vinegar, makes a difference in the taste.

“I think it brings out the sweetness of the banana peppers,” Larry Suhey said.

Peppers come in original, mild and hot varieties, from about $23 for three jars to $90 for a case. They’re available at www.suheypeppers.com, and, locally, at Weis Markets, Tait Farms, Fasta & Ravioli Co., Mount Nittany Winery, the Waffle Shop, McLanahan’s, HoneyBaked Ham and the Callao Cafe and Market.

As before, the Suheys still consume plenty of peppers themselves.

Paul Suhey said he likes simply dabbing the peppers on pita bread slices covered in hummus. Larry Suhey adds them to steaks, eggs and salads for a little zip.

In fact, Larry Suhey said, it’s hard to resist dipping into the stock when his brother brings jars from the factory.

“We sneak them out of the truck and eat them,” Larry Suhey said. “We’ve been eating the profit.”

— Chris Rosenblum

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