While recently reaching for a fresh bell pepper, I noticed a tray above the sweet peppers that was filled with long, ominous-looking green peppers. They were about the size of my little finger, just longer.
These were the little devils my daddy tortured me with when I was a boy. He loved hot peppers and usually had a one or two with every meal.
When our family would sit down for supper, Daddy sometimes would send me to the kitchen to get something. While I was gone, he’d rub the open end of a serrano pepper around the rim of my tea glass. When I later drank from that glass, I thought the burning was coming from my food and unknowingly would reach back to the source of my burning lips for relief, only to add to the torment.
I suppose grocery stores have offered serrano peppers before, but I never noticed them. Choices usually are limited to jalapeños and habaneros, which are miles apart on the Scoville heat chart. Serranos are found between these two, according to chiliworld.com.
As one cooking website explained it, if hot pepper potency was compared to a weight-lighting contest, habaneros could lift a tractor-trailer, serranos could lift a full-size van and jalapeños could lift a moped.
Those of you who gasp for air when you bite into jalapeño probably should avoid habaneros and especially bhut jolokia, better known as ghost peppers.
I used to think ghost peppers were “the grains of paradise,” mentioned in my favorite short story by that name written by James Street. But Street was talking about the seeds of another pepper, which, though not as deadly hot as the ghost pepper, they’re not something you want in your salsa.
I don’t eat hot peppers outright, but I do add them to various recipes. I stop at the lantern-shaped habanero, though. A couple years ago, I accidently planted some habaneros along with my bell peppers. Some guy probably was trying to be funny at Walmart’s garden center by removing the tag and placing that tray among the sweet peppers.
Weeks later, as my bells began growing, I thought these little peppers were runts and wondered why they were turning from green to yellow while still so small.
By the way, wear gloves when handling habaneros.
After plucking them from the bush and bringing them close to my nose for a sniff inspection, I scratched my nose that instantly began itching when I brought these tangy-scented demons too close. Now, my nose was on fire. Then my eyes were running, so I wiped my face with my hands. That was the wrong thing to do.
Just as my tea glass was the source of my misery when I was a kid, now my own hands were sending me into a frenzy to wash my face and hands and end the pain. Not even Lava soap could get this capsaicin napalm off my skin. After I recovered, I saved these four habaneros in two plastic bags in the freezer.
When I later chopped and added them to my chili, I was careful not to touch them except with a fork. I’d like to say it was good chili, but my taste buds went into a coma by the third spoonful. The experience brought Street’s 60-year-old short story to mind. I still love the story, but I’ve become philosophical in my old age.
Paradise and peppers are not compatible, but I suppose one man’s paradise can be another man’s torment.
I’ll continue to add red and green chiles to my chili and eat lots of sweet peppers, banana peppers and jalapeños on my sandwiches or my omelets.
But as that actor-philosopher Clint Eastwood once said, a man’s got to know his limitations. Serranos are hot; habaneros are, well, let’s just say they’re hotter.