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