He's mad about peppers
By Rita Papazian
Posted: May 6, 2010

MADISON –Tom Marone loves peppers. He really loves peppers. He grows them. He dries them; grinds them; and packages them. Of course, he eats them and enjoys cooking with them as he creates new recipes for the spice blends and powders he makes.

Marone’s passion for peppers has literally grown from a hobby to a cottage industry where in just about a month he will begin the process of putting seeds in the seed pods (98 plants to a tray) and then place the trays beneath the lights in his basement where the process begins and ends six months later with Marone back in the basement cutting, grinding and packaging the pepper spice blends and powders for distribution at farmers markets and on his Mad Hill Pepper website.

Between February and harvest time, Marone brings the seedlings into his greenhouse where they adjust to natural light, temperatures and the weather. Once their roots and stems become stronger, he then takes the trays to the four acres of land in North Haven which he rents. Here he plants his 25,000 pepper plants with the help of some of his “beer buddies.” After planting, he covers the plants with a weed control mesh “to hold back as much of the weeds as possible,” he says.

Marone credits having Italian immigrant grandparents and nearly a dozen years traveling the high seas of adventure as a member of the Merchant Marines for his becoming interested in growing peppers.

Recently, Marone discussed his passion for peppers in his home at 437 Green Hill Road which he shares with his partner Jean Gerrity, who with her daughter Pam Gerrity Kadamus work as a team of real estate agents for Prudential Connecticut Realty. Kadamus handles much of the administrative and marketing details for her “stepfather”. She labels, packages and ships the products. Lisa Kronauer who has her own event planner company, Studio K, also handles much of the administrative work along with creating the displays for the company’s on-site tasting events.

Kadamus describes Marone as a “very brilliant man who is very well educated and passionate about his peppers. He’s always taking classes and immersing himself in different things to enrich his life. He’s extremely friendly. People just gravitate to him because he’s such a nice guy.”

With her own full-time job as a real estate agent, why does Kadamus devote so much time to Mad Hill Peppers?

“My a real foodie. I see so much potential in what he’s doing. People appreciate the peppers and their uses.”

With his vivid childhood memory of his grandparents’ garden in New Haven in the 1950s, Marone, the second oldest of seven children of a school teacher father and librarian mother, decided to start growing peppers as a diversion from his day job as an electrical subcontractor for Pratt & Whitney and also for a general contractor.

Going out into the fields and to his pepper plants during the growing season has became something he looks forward to at the end of the day working in industrial plants.. The days never seems to end now for Marone as he heads his small company called Mad Hill Peppers with his base of operation in the basement of his home.

Marone is very serious about his peppers and on one basement wall he hangs his “brain board” with lists of products he wants to create with his spice and powder blends made from his peppers. Think chocolate, candy and a trail mix. He’s even thinking about producing maple syrup with spices, olive oils and a good cocktail sauce. “I love clams on the half shell,” said Marone who is also an avid fisherman..

During a tour of the basement where rows of fishing rods hang from the ceiling, Marone who is a member of the Northeast Farmers Association, chronicled the process from seed to packaged and bottled spices. He cited the many countries from which his peppers come: Japan, Thailand, Hungary, China, Trinidad, India, Korea, the Caribbean, Africa, Tasmania, Mexico, Bulgaria Czechoslovakia. Peru, Indonesia, the Sudan, Turkey, Chile, among others..

Marone sells six spice blends and one specialty pepper at farmer’s markets and some specialty food shops. At markets he and Kadamus set up their displays and offer tastings of foods such as grilled shrimp and beef kabobs prepared with a dry rub of the special spice blends. For example, he offers a Southwest Mad Hill Mix which he rubs on the shrimp. He likes to sprinkle the Southwest spice on French Fries. He also makes a curry powder for his curry shrimp dish. They also prepare gift packages of the spice blends such as the Guacamole Spice Blend which is packaged in a gift packet with a recipe.

“I love it. I love the peppers. I’m fascinated not only by the flavors, but also growing them and being out in the fields after a noisy days in the industrial plants. It’s a labor of love being out in the seasons,” Marone says.

His love of the outdoors is not surprising considering that after being in the Merchant Marines Marone enrolled at the University of Connecticut where he earned a degree in Animal Sciences. He was interested in dairy farming, but the economy turned his attention to something more stable; electrical work. His Merchant Marine career took him to all corners of the world where he was introduced to a variety of cuisines – lots of spices. His decision to join the Merchant Marines was his way of seeing the world without it costing him any money.

At age 62, Marone welcomes the challenge of his cottage industry making spices. “To continue with energy you have to push forward and work harder; otherwise you will become too complacent and your body will fatigue. I can’t sit still too long.”

Mad Hill Peppers spices and blends are available atwww.madhillpeppers.com or at the Madison Cheese Shop in Madison; Fire & Rain, Killingworth; and The Kitchen Store, Guilford. For further information 203-464-3050.