Peppers are an adventure. They’re not supposed to grow in the suburbs of New Jersey. They don’t belong in this part of the world, but we’re humans. We do what we want with Mother Nature (right up to the point where she does what she wants with us).
We never really had success growing peppers in our yard, and that always disappointed me. All we wanted was some regular ol’ bell peppers. As a kid, I learned from my good friend Chris to eat them like apples, but with a salt shaker in hand. Bite, dash of salt, bite, dash of salt, until the whole thing was gone. So that’s how I came to love sweet peppers.
Hot peppers were another story. I didn’t have the taste for heat. Just didn’t make sense to me. Eat something that would cause me discomfort? Why would I do that? I like my discomfort to be as minimal as possible, thanks. I’m a wuss that way.
Things changed in adulthood, in part thanks to discovering the joys of Thai and getting briefly addicted to binges of tortillas and increasingly hot salsa. Roughly 40 pounds later I started gardening (which actually turned into the way those 40 pounds left again, so that’s nice), and with a growing vegetable garden came a fascination with growing stuff. First stuff to use in my homebrewed beer. Then things to grow to give me fodder for web & magazine articles. Then just things to grow for the sake of growing them.
Last year, I grew several varieties of peppers, the hottest being cayenne. Discovered some tricks (Epsom salt), figured out what we had been doing wrong, and grew some damn fine peppers for the first time. Had no idea what to do with my harvests, and before long found myself in a place my wife hates to find me — the kitchen — learning how to make salsas and hot sauces and ground peppers and more.
And I’ll be damned if they didn’t turn out pretty good, too.
Doing stuff in the kitchen that didn’t involve heating up leftovers, brewing beer, or leaving out my dirty dishes was a completely new experience for me, and a highly satisfying one at that. Kind of felt connected to a part of myself I didn’t know was there. Felt capable, somehow, in a way I hadn’t ever felt before.
So this year I went mildly overboard with the peppers, lining up 8-10 varieties for a suburban garden that already has fairly limited space. The writer side of me says it’s in the hope of selling some articles and providing material/experience for an as-yet unannounced writing project I’m pursuing. The Dude Who Needs A Hobby side of me says, “It’s going to be so awesome growing all these peppers!”
It will be, too. Nothing too nuts just yet. No Scotch Bonnet or Carolina Reapers or even Ghost, all of which I would inevitably get all over my hands and then accidentally rub my eyes or wang or something, then rue the day I decided to grow the stupid things. The hottest I’m going is Habanero, which is still plenty hot enough to burn the hell out of my bum hole.
They aren’t supposed to be here. They’re not made for this environment. Mother Nature didn’t intend to have some New Jersey goofball blasting music at them while pouring beers and yammering to his guests about whatever nonsense is on his mind that day (like whether or not Roy’s has the best fried chicken in all of fast food, which it does) and struggling to light the fire pit because my wood pile is a mess. The pepper plants will make good writing material, I hope, and also good eating material.
At the very least, they’ll be a new adventure for me. More than anything, I think that’s what the garden is all about. It’s an adventure.
I need adventures. Especially the kind that won’t kill me.
Tear my butt apart when I eventually try to grow ungodly hot varieties, perhaps. But kill me? Nah.