HOT STUFF

From: Meridian, ID: Over a lifetime, a man’s relationship with hot peppers changes constantly, but generally follows a standardized progression (shown below). As a child, I had very little experience with them…evidently the Scandinavian peoples didn’t have much use for chilies or jalapenos or habaneros or scorpions or Carolina Reapers or nagas or cayenne or any other of the myriad varieties to be found in the modern world. God bless the Scandinavians, I say. The Vikings proved their manhood in more traditional ways, such as how many enemy heads could be lopped off with one mighty swing of a broadsword, for example.

(A Red Savina pepper.)

(A Red Savina pepper.)

But our American “melting pot” has added enough people from hot pepper cultures around the world that we can now expect virtually every child to be introduced to spicy dishes sooner or later. In my own experience it happened later. In fact, I was in the military before I learned that one’s ability – or lack of it – to tolerate fiery peppers and hot sauces was viewed as a measure of “machismo.” Of course I quickly bought in to that philosophy. Looking back on it, now, I can imagine that those first “tests” were pretty tame by today’s standards, but keep in mind that until joining the Coast Guard I had never even heard of Tabasco Sauce, let only any of the products that can be found (and purchased) today. And dozens – if not hundreds – of pepper aficionados don’t consider Tabasco to be hot at all, but rather in the same general category as Ketchup, or Gerber’s baby food.

Believe me, it’s difficult to now admit that I was so easily swayed by my fellows but there it is…I was soon sprinkling Tabasco on my morning hash browns, on hamburgers, and in soup. And if that’s difficult, imagine how much more so to face the reality that I didn’t really like it all that much.

(Mixed hot peppers.)

(Mixed hot peppers.)

Before long, our brown-skinned “pushers” were bringing from home an array of canned chilies and other peppers, daring the rest of us to “see if you can eat one.” Most of us couldn’t…and wished to God we had not taken the dare. But, unbelievable as it surely seems, we kept trying. As you can imagine, there was taunting involved…and quite often a good deal of alcohol. Amongst young men there is a powerful drive to become one of the “taunters,” instead of being a member of an ever-shrinking group of “tauntees.” Finally, the last individual in the latter group will take a fatalistic view, i.e., “eating this pepper is, without a doubt, going to kill me…but life will not be worth living if I don’t eat it.” And so it goes…

What none of us initiates realized at first was the delayed reaction phenomenon of capsaicin, the chemical compound that provides the “hot” in a hot pepper. That phenomenon can be summed up with the phrase, “Hot going in…and hotter going out.” It took some of us longer than others to discern the relationship between eating hot peppers on one day and that first excruciating sit-down business the next morning, but eventually everyone figures it out.

(A Peter Pepper. No joke.)

(A Peter Pepper. No joke.)

The sane person might well assume such an awful experience would quickly result in common sense taking hold, and that even a fool would certainly stop eating the things that were proven beyond a doubt to cause such agony only a few hours later. But that person, in making such an assumption, would be demonstrating a complete ignorance of the inner workings of a young man’s mind. The memory of pain fades rather rapidly…the need for acceptance in one’s peer group stays strong for a lifetime.

So here, then, is the progression I spoke of above:

Age 1 to 4:            No factor. Parents won’t give hot peppers to infants or toddlers.

Age 5 to 15:            No factor. Considers hot peppers in the same food group as Brussels sprouts. Age 16 to 30 (variable): Will eat hot peppers (and live spiders) on a dare…or if friends eat one first.

Age 30 to 60: May use hot seasonings or peppers, occasionally, but only in moderation.

Age 61 and up: Won’t eat hot peppers. The next day’s pain is no longer worth whatever enjoyment or benefit might accompany the eating. (This can sometimes be called “wisdom.”)

(Cautionary Note: If alcohol is present in a group of wise old men, small amounts can have the effect of dramatically reducing the brain’s age back to the third group listed. These men may then be induced to try a really hot pepper, or – just as likely – to take up professional wrestling. This is especially true if any young women are in the immediate area.)

A word about hotness: In 1912, a fellow named Wilbur Scoville developed a system to measure the effects of capsaicin. It is not terribly accurate because, for one thing, it depends on human “taste tests,” which introduce a great deal of subjectivity, or individual taste sensation in the process. Nevertheless, for many years it was essentially the only way to compare various peppers. (There now exists a more accurate process, based more on chemistry.)

(A Trinidad Baruga Scorpion pepper.)

(A Trinidad Baruga Scorpion pepper.)

To give you an idea, a bell pepper is rating “0” on the scale of Scoville Heat Units (SHU); a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper and a Carolina Reaper currently top the list at 2 to 2.2 million SHUs. Cayenne pepper and Tabasco peppers are found in a group measuring from 30 to 50 thousand SHUs. (Makes you want to go right out and pop one of those scorpions, doesn’t it?)

Finally, you might want to know (although I can’t imagine why) there are chemical compounds that put natural peppers to shame when it comes to hotness. For example, at the top of that list if a devil’s brew – if there ever was one – called, “Resiniferatoxin,” that is rated at 16 billion (yes, the “b” is correct) SHUs. Wouldn’t you like some of that for your hash browns or your spicy Bloody Mary?

***

Unlike the subject matter above, our weather in the Treasure Valley has been decidedly cooler since Fall officially began. We’ve even had some rain over the past few days. Happily, the weather guys are now forecasting sunny days for the remainder of the week, with temperatures in the 70s…or a bit higher. That will be a nice change. Hopefully, the nicer weather will give me an opportunity to get out to the rifle range later this week. I need to “dial in” the scope on my trusty deer rifle. And since I’ve had the scopes on three other rifles (varmint shooters) rearranged, I’ll be trying to zero those, as well. Shouldn’t be too difficult…I’ve had all three of them to the indoor range over the past week and while the maximum distance there is only 25 yards, using ballistic “formulas,” one can compensate for the short distance. I’m excited about the pending hunting season. Once again, I’ll be going to Montana with the same group of us that goes every year. (Well…every year that we are drawn for a non-resident tag.) This year, however, my older son will be going along, too, and it will be his first time. My younger son and two of his buddies have been going for several years. We’re all excited and counting the days.

I hope you all have a fun week lined up.

Bud

Leave a Reply