Come summer, it’s not unusual for me to fall apart during dinner and shed a few tears. No, there’s need for cheering up, thank you, but please pass the tissues.
The waterworks come courtesy of cowhorn peppers growing contentedly in a big flower pot outside my window and burning my mouth to a crisp every time I take a tiny bite out of one or add a sliver to my favorite sauce.
I’m not a spicy food person. I know a lot of people will go out of their way to order anything with the “hot” symbol on the menu, but I’m not one of them. I have a low tolerance for it and I’ve never been big on breathing fire at dinner.
Yet here I am, choosing to turn all red and teary-eyed during home-cooked meals - something I wouldn’t dare do in a restaurant.
After the first fiery bite, I didn’t think this choice would work out, but somehow I’ve become hooked. Maybe it’s the endorphin rush - researchers say the brain responds to the burning sensation on your palate by releasing "happy hormones" to soothe the pain.
Maybe it’s the cooling effect – some people believe spicy foods help you beat the heat by causing you to perspire.
Whatever the reason, summer has come to mean “spicy” in my kitchen, a season when meals are as scorching as the temperatures outside.
I like how the pepper is still warm from the sun when I pick it before dinner. I like how it has tons more flavor than anything at the store. The jalapeños I sometimes buy in the winter are spicy but oddly dull at the same time.
The cowhorn pepper often curls as it grows, thus the name. It starts out a succulent green, then morphs into a warm shade of brown (which can be very alarming if you’re a pepper novice convinced your crop has gone bad), before ripening into a magnificent, intense red that rivals any color a make-up company could come up with. This is how I imagine “Jungle Red” nail polish from the film “The Women” must have looked like.
When you slice the pepper open, it has a sharp, slightly menacing perfume that lets you know right away you’re in for a bumpy ride –and if you have any cuts on your fingers when you slice the pepper, the naughty little thing will sting your skin. Gloves are a must.
I like to eat them raw when I have salad with dinner, though I bite off a millimeter at a time. Tiny slivers of the pepper add fire to any tomato or cream sauce.
Then I end up falling apart at dinner - if I were a cartoon character, I would have steam coming out of my ears. But I’ll miss that piquant feeling when the weather turns cold and my pepper plant is gone.
(P.S. Any advice on how to preserve hot peppers for the winter?) [Editor's note: Yup – we have you covered. Stay tuned.]