Mystery pepper adds zing Mystery pepper adds zing

September 05, 2001|By Rob Kasper

WORKING WITH a mysterious ingredient can add excitement to supper, especially if the ingredient is a fiery pepper.

That is what I have been doing lately. I have been fooling around with these peppers that are about the size of my little finger. They are green, then they turn red. They are skin-tingling hot.

If, like me, you are foolish enough to work barehanded when you slice open one of these peppers and remove its seeds, you will pay.

You will absent-mindedly scratch your cheek with your pepper-contaminated fingers, and suddenly it will feel as if a colony of fire ants were stinging your skin.

Or, even more foolishly, you will take a small bite to see how much wallop the pepper packs, and within seconds you will be smacking your lips faster than you did after your first kiss. A major difference between the two experiences is that most first-timers want to repeat the kiss.

While I know that this pepper is a sizzler, I don't know its name. It has been growing in my garden, but it got started as a pass-along plant. A fellow gardener, who got it from another gardener, who got it from who-knows-where gave it to me.

Back in May, I put it in the ground because that is what you do in the springtime -- you plant things. Also I thought it might keep the rabbits away. It has, sorta. The rabbits haven't ventured near it, but they have chewed vegetables that sit in the shadow of the pepper. Apparently these are north-of-the-border rabbits that prefer mild foods.

I have made some efforts to identify the mysterious pepper. I have perused a variety of books and Web sites, comparing photos, noting distinguishing characteristics and have narrowed the field to two suspects. This pepper could be either a New Mexico, also called an Anaheim, or it might be a cayenne.

In the chest-thumping world of serious pepper eaters, these are not considered to be bad actors. The Thai pepper, the Jamaican Hot, the Scotch bonnet, and the habanero are real firebombs, rating at the top of the Scoville scale, a measurement of chili-pepper pungency. But the peppers I harvest are hot enough to make me cry "No mas" and surrender.

The other day I used one in a homemade salsa and it lit up the dish. I calmed things down by tossing in two or three times as many tomatoes as the recipe called for. But even then, I was careful. When I dipped a chip in the mixture, I tried to avoid any bit of material that resembled a piece of that torrid, anonymous pod.

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