I like peppers; not those sissy peppers like the bell or jalapeno but hot ones like habanero and arbol. I love to cook with peppers. Salas and chili always include chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. So when my friend Helen was telling me about her homemade pepper jelly I chimed in that I like pepper jelly. I shouldn’t have done that. Yes, pepper jelly is delicious and I use mine dripping over a block of cream cheese but her jelly is set apart from anything I have ever experienced.
Helen happens to grow the infamous Carolina Reaper. In case you’re unaware, that’s the hottest pepper in the world. Created right here in South Carolina, the Carolina Reaper record stands at an average of 1,641,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), a measure of spiciness, 71,000 SHU higher than its previous record.
The reaper is a sneaky little devil. The sweetness first coats your tongue, allowing you to savor its deliciousness. Then Satan appears and lights the internal flames that travel all the way down your tender throat. I’m told the experience is something no one will ever forget. Might just be up there with labor pains or kidney stones.
Getting back to Helen:
She calls me to let me know she’ll drop by with a bag of the peppers. “Great,” I say to myself with trepidation in my voice. To my surprise she shows up with two bags, one with ghost peppers and the other holding several reapers. While I’m staring at the bag of deep red wrinkled bulbs, Helen tells me about her other favorite reaper concoctions such as cornbread laced with the demon fruit. She warns me the more wrinkles, the hotter.
I arrive home with my plastic bags and set them down on the kitchen counter. Their presence is enough to keep me from opening the bags for several days while I contemplate what to do with them. Finally I gather enough courage to make something with a reaper. Hands protected with heavy-duty rubber gloves (I heard the oils can penetrate through thin ones), I carefully retrieve one pepper - with tongs. I’m terrified at this point because I know when I slice it there’s an infinitesimal chance a microscopic drop of juice with fly into my eye and send me to the emergency room.
I decide to first roast it. Maybe that will dry it out and eliminate a possible visit to the ER.
An hour later the quarter-sized, crumpled and charred remains is ready for my recipe. I thinly slice one quarter of the pepper, being careful to avoid the seeds, as they are where a lot of the spicy torridness subsists. I wash the gloves, cutting board and utensils probably three times (I lost count), remove them and wash my hands for good measure.
Now it’s time to assemble the recipe. I melt a jar of raspberry jam in a pan and add the hair like threads (with tongs), stirring to coat. I stand back to admire my creation. Now what? Should I taste it? I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. So I let it sit in the pan for a while. Every now and then I bend over and smell it, being extra careful not to inhale too deep.
Finally I take to plunge. I am prepared to die. I dip the tip of a spoon into the sauce, touch it to my tongue, swallow and wait. The raspberry flavor is delicious but moments later it gives way to a warm sensation, then warmer, and warmer. I resist running for a glass of milk and a slice of bread to ease the cooking process taking place in my esophagus. It lasts a while but it’s not as horrific as I had anticipated. In fact, it’s rather good and the following day I introduced my version of pepper jelly to my coworkers by coating a block of cream cheese with it and serving with crackers.
Looking back I am somewhat disappointed; not in the pepper but in my attempt to kill the experience by cooking it to death. But all is not lost. I have another one waiting in that plastic bag.
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