What I’m Grateful For: Hot Peppers

So probably not many of your know about my ridiculous love affair with hot peppers.

It began about six years ago, when a friend of mine, Lorah, gave me a jar of her fermented hot pepper paste. I was in love – the complexity, the heat, the rich flavors were completely different than anything I’d tasted before. My partner, a first responder and smokejumper, was even more keen on the pepper paste – according to him is tasted like some of the homemade concoctions friends down in Mexico used to make. So when the paste ran out, and my friend claimed she was tired of making it again, we started investigating hot pepper growing….

Five years, twenty pepper varieties, and four hydroponic indoor gardens later, I am proud to tell you that we have indeed turned into successful hot-pepper-growing and lacto-fermented pepper-paste and sauce-making FREAKS. Yes, that’s really the only word. Our final favorites are Caribbean Habeneros and Carolina Reapers, along with a Carolina – Peach Scorpion cross called the “California Reaper.”

Tonight, with gloves and carefully quarantined cutting boards and knives, I just started a new batch of my favorite mash – a Caribbean Habero/ Vanilla Bean lacto-ferment. It will sit on the counter with an airlock four about 3 to 4 weeks – just ready for Christmas time. When we finally taste it, the salt and heat and sweet deep vanilla will overwhelm all our senses….and then the long, hot burn will set in and bring beads of sweat popping out on our foreheads. I’ll probably start to cry a little, and my nose will run, and I’ll eat some more, in love with the glorious heat and the fragrance of our hot, hot HOT peppers.

What I’m Reading: For your reading (and eating) pleasure- check out Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments by Kirsten Shockey. If you are intrigued by my story above, this is the book to order for yourself – or your freaking family member who is obsessed with hot sauces. Lacto-fermentation is incredibly cool, especially for peppers, and the out coming sauces, pastes and spreads are insanely high in natural, wild probiotics. The high salt content and anaerobic conditions make it pretty easy to handle making these ferments, even for a novice. I personally haven’t ventured too far into the lacto-fermentation world (it gets full-on crazy in the massive tome, “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, with fermented milk, grains, tubers, even meats and fish. I really just stick to peppers and veggies). But there’s a whole wild world of fermentation out there and if you like to do stuff in the kitchen, I promise you can do some pepper sauces on your own!

Quote I’m Pondering:Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans–language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.” -Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, quoted in James Gorman’s New York Times article about why we eat chilies, despite the pain.