Tag Archives: bhut jolokia

Projects: the bounty of summer

Bhut Jolokia peppers

The good news about having a greenhouse full of Bhut Jolokia, Trinidad Scorpion, and Moraga pepper plants being trained for bonsai: with the beginning of July comes lots and lots of fruit. The seemingly sad news: since the plants themselves are being deliberately dwarfed for that bonsai, the peppers aren’t anywhere near as big as they’d be if they were fertilized on a constant basis. The excellent news, at least for those with a taste for the dangerously spicy: stressing the plants in this way pretty much guarantees that the peppers will peel the enamel off your teeth in big floppy strips. Now I need to figure out a way to get these to my little brother the chilihead, because he pretty much eats these fresh off the bush.

March of the Peppers

The Triffid Ranch’s motto is “Odd Plants and Oddities For Odd People,” and that’s pretty much its business mission statement, too. That’s easy to uphold when dealing with carnivorous plants (that is, unless you’re a resident of Tallahassee, Florida, and even then), but how do you define “odd plants” otherwise? Is this label dependent upon location, upon growing habits, or upon its back history? More importantly, what do you do when a customer responds to the slogan, takes a peek, and tells you in all seriousness “I see odder things in my breakfast cereal”?

I bring this up because it’s time to retry an experiment cut short by last summer’s solar annihilation. This year, it’s time to expand, very slightly, into hot peppers.

Part of the fascination with Capsicum peppers comes, obviously, from the tasting. Several years back, I worked a day job where my daily consumption of sriracha sauce surprised Cuban co-workers, one of whom told me “You have a little brown in you, don’t you?” I definitely took the compliment in the manner in which it was intended, and didn’t have the heart to tell her that I used to be a hopeless wimp about spicy food when I was a child. Michigan wasn’t exactly known for spice in its cuisine, and I remember literally crying at the age of five when a McDonald’s hamburger had too much mustard on it. That lasted until I moved to Texas in 1979 and had my first exposure to jalapeno peppers that hadn’t been pickled to within an inch of their lives. After that, you might as well have carved “JUST ONE FIX” into my forehead when it came to Tex-Mex, Thai, or Indian cuisine.

(When I lived in Wisconsin in the mid-Eighties, a new Mexican restaurant opened in the area, advertising traditional Tex-Mex sauces. They didn’t realize how much they had toned down the bite for Wisconsinites until I kept asking for salsa that was “a little stronger than this.” By the time the main course was served, I had a crowd of employees and managers watching me snarf down an exquisite green chile salsa that was put off-limits to the general customers. Twenty years later, an acquaintance thought he was showing off by handing me a bottle of sriracha sauce and telling me that this was the hottest sauce he’d ever tried, and then completely lost it when I squeezed out a line onto my finger and used it to brush my teeth.)

The other aspect, though, is the science. It’s not enough to know that peppers are spicy, but why they’re spicy. The brilliant colors and the incredible heat evolved together, with the colors intent upon attracting birds acting as vectors for the pepper’s seeds and the capsicum oil intent upon repelling mammals whose digestive systems could destroy those seeds. The sheer variety of peppers today comes from a certain variety of upright ape that both had the ability to see those colors and taste those flavors, and cultivate plants based on their ability to perpetuate said colors and tastes. At that point, you have to wonder which species is influencing whom: are humans controlling the peppers’ distribution and evolution, or are the peppers controlling humans by encouraging them to expand the peppers’ range and variety?

Heady thoughts for a Monday evening, and thoughts that make me want to sit down with a gaggle of grad students at the Chile Pepper Institute for a good long chat. These and other questions are why the greenhouse is now full of flats of Bhut Jolokia seedlings, why I’m awaiting a fresh batch of Trinidad Scorpion seeds, and why I plan to use David Shaw’s recipe for homemade sriracha sauce with Black Pearl peppers to make the ultimate goth hot sauce. Purely for satiation of scientific curiosity, of course. Heck, I may even make some Capsicum bonsai.


Lots of interesting bits of information this day, so hang on:

Numero uno, the recent television interviews have scared quite a few online friends who’ve never heard my voice before now. Apparently, I don’t sound thuggish enough. To make matters worse, the Czarina and I are now being compared more often than before to a certain fictional power couple:

Personally, I’m extremely insulted. My eyebrows are white, not red. Besides, although the Czarina looks really good in a pillbox hat, her voice is much deeper than this. (And that sound you just heard was of the Czarina’s elbows sliding out of their sheathes, drooling venom on the floor.)

Numero two-o, never knock serendipity. At the same time that Tillamook reminds us all that it’s National Vanilla Milkshake Day, I got into quite the interesting discussion with an Armenian co-worker at the Day Job about vanilla versus mesquite flavorings. She knew as much about the historic uses of mesquite as most of my fellow Americans, which began and ended with using mesquite wood for meat smoking. With that in mind, it’s time to drag out the ice cream maker, pick up a bottle of mesquite bean syrup, and try mesquite ice cream as an alternative to vanilla. (The plan, in a few years, is to have enough greenhouse space to grow a Vanilla tahitiensis orchid for my own personal use. If you’ve ever seen the stunning V. tahitiensis on display at Gunter’s Orchids in Richardson, you’ll understand why this is such a tall order. Much like a Vanda orchid, Vanilla is a vining indeterminate orchid, and those vines grow to be as big around as a man’s leg. When someone asks about buying one from Gunter’s, the crew asks “How many feet do you want?”, and cuts off a suitable segment for home rooting.)

Numero three-o, you know you’re charting odd terrain when Popular Science magazine gets involved in the discussion of the hottest pepper in the world. Personally, as addicted as I am to hot peppers, I just remember when the 2011 ZestFest ran in Irving last January, and the publisher of Chili Pepper magazine had to be hospitalized for a reaction to too much Bhut Jolokia. It’s a tough call as to whether having a quote from one of the great philosophers of the Twentieth Century on your crematory urn is a compliment or an insult.