The outgoing Attorney General Griffin Bell "is thinking about giving the recipe for rooster pepper sausage" to his former boss to show there are no hard feelings. "We might give it to the Carter Foundation to help raise money for the president's library," Bell said last week.
Skeptics, who have never believed there is any such thing as rooster pepper sausage - just a hoax dreamed up by the A.G. and his crony, Charles Kirbo - may look on Bell's statement as an attempt to have the last word.
But Bell, a longtime Carter friend, said he is "not angry with the president. It was the opposite of being fired. The only thing was lumping me with the others." On second thought, Bell decided that wasn't so terrible either, "because the people who got fired are nice people."
When Bell leaves town he will leave with his very own rooster spur pepper plant, complete with red and green peppers and white blossoms. The plant was grown at the Department of Agriculture from the seeds of a pepper supplied to this reporter by Bell last winter. Two plants, in fact. The plants and the research done by USDA into rooster peppers should, once and for all, lay to rest the controversy that has surrounded Bell for more than a year, ever since he was overheard discussing rooster pepper sausage with Kirbo, friend and adviser to their fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter.
Whether or not there is a ground pork product called rooster pepper sausage, or even a pepper called rooster, has been the subject of newspaper and magazine columns, television reports, and even editorials accusing the Justice Department of stonewalling efforts to learn the recipe. The attorney general has stood his ground. He insists presidential press secretary Jody Powell is absolutely wrong in his claim that "Judge Bell and Squire Kirbo are putting on not only the rest of the country, but the president, too."
Bell said Powell was "the victim of his own story. He thought the president had either fallen in with us on the hoax or that we were fooling the president."
Last November I wrote a story extolling the virtues of the rooster pepper sausage I had eaten. The telephone started ringing. Didn't I know I'd been the victim of a hoax? There was no such thing as a rooster pepper.
The attorney general said he had papers to prove otherwise, not to mention a new shipment of rooster pepper sausage his wife, Mary, was hand-carrying on a trip back from Georgia.
Attached to what Bell insisted was genuine rooster pepper sausage made by H. S. Williams of Haralson, Ga., was one brittle, dried red pepper.
It looked like an ordinary hot red pepper, though it did curl at the bottom to give it the appearance of a rooster spur. According to Bell there are two varieties of rooster pepper: rooster comb and the smaller, hotter rooster spur.
Could a botanist or plant biologist determine if this was a genuine rooster pepper, or just a common, garden-variety pepper masquerading under a mysterious and exotic name? Bell's pepper is reputed to be an aphrodisiac.
The lone pepper I received was snet through channels to the proper division at the Department of Agriculture. After careful study, a report was filed on Jan. 9 by Mike Cannon and Don Paradis, marketing specialists with degrees in biology at USDA's fresh fruit and vegetable division. It was entitled "Bird" or "Spur" Pepper and began with a complete rundown of its lineage:
DIVISION - Spermatophyta
CLASS - Angiospermae
SUB-CLASS - Dicotyledoneae
GROUP - Corolliflorae
FAMILY - Solanaceae
SPECIE - Capsicum
The red chili pepper, capsicum frutescens, is a member of the solanaceous plant family.
Frutescens fasciculaltum, red pepper, is often referred to as "bird" or "spur" pepper in botanical publications. The slender, narrow, pencil-thick, red fruit reasembles the spur of a male bird such as a rooster. The peppers usually are 3 inches in length and grow erect.
The report details other cousins to the pepper and goes on to describe the names it carries:
"In Georgia the rooster spur or bird pepper is not grown commercially but rather found in gardens, especially those who prefer to grow their own spices, hot peppers, etc.
"In Texas, Mexico and probably parts of California, it is known as the "Red Chili Pepper." Occasional odd crates are sometimes seen in Northern markets during the Mexican growing season. These are usually manifested as "Red Chili," "Mexican Chili" or "Red Cayanne." All of which could be of the same variety or type. Depending on where grown, they are named either at the whim of the packer or shipper, or named according to local history passed from generation to generation.
"In essence the Bird or Spur pepper, Rooster Spur pepper, Little Red Cayenne, Mexican Hot, Red Chili, Small Red Chili, Mexican Chili and Small Cayenne are from the Capsicum specie and may all be related or the same with various characteristics associated to it due to what part of the country they are grown and who harvests them and for what purpose."
All this important information been withheld for almost seven months because it didn't seem to be sufficient proof of the existence of a rooster pepper, no matter its name. USDA botanist Cannon agreed to plant the seeds of the pepper he had been sent for study. By February two small pepper plants in Cannon's window. Last month one of the plants, which had mysteriously lost practically all of its leaves, had born fruit - a rooster pepper. Now both are blooming.
The pepper plant, of course, does not answer the ultimate question: What's the recipe for rooster pepper sausage?
And it's unlikely that it will be revealed. If Bell doesn't give the recipe to the Carter Foundation, he still has plans for it. "We might even get us up a logo (a rooster and three hens) and get it copyrighted and when we do, we might do something with it," he said.
Bell has promised that even after he leaves town he will do his best "to keep the president supplied with rooster pepper sausage. That will tend to keep him in good humor," he explained. And, he added, "It may avoid any further activities of the kind we've seen." CAPTION: Picture, Griffin Bell with the rooster pepper plant, by Joe Heiberger - The Washington Post.