Love, Loss And Habanero Sauce: Sizzlin’ Hot Peppers At Bob’s Little Acre

“From you have I been absent in the spring …”

Yes, my darling, the sonnets again. April, and here I am drowning my sorrows in red wine and poetry, aching for you in iambic pentameter.

I just looked out the window to see the redbud in full glorious flower and the tulips blooming. I took no joy in them. As the Bard would say, “Yet seemed it winter still, and you away.”

I still can’t believe you’re gone.

Did I take you for granted? Maybe, but it was the way I accept sunshine as a premise of life. You lit up my days. It was the heat of you that got me through each winter.

It still gives me a physical pain to think of that awful, awful day when I looked and you were gone.

Gone to the last drop. I must have used the last of you in those chicken wings last week ….

Well, Gentle Reader, did you really think all this wistful Shakespearean yearning was over lost love? Clearly you have never tasted my habanero sauce.

Habanero sauce, made from homegrown peppers, is to Bob’s Little Acre what ketchup is to McDonald’s. It is sprinkled on beans, chicken and scrambled egg sandwiches here. It is poured into soups and marinades. Eggrolls are dipped in it, fried foods are unimaginable without it, and it is smuggled in pockets to social evenings as a surreptitious amendment to other people’s cooking.

And I ran out last Tuesday. What is lost love next to that?

Those of us who have attained the middle years grow resigned to doing without the youthful passions in any case. Nobody compares our eyes to pellucid pools; nobody remembers what color they are. No one sidles up to ask us for anything naughtier than our vinaigrette recipe. No one whispers anything sweeter in our ears than, “Is there pudding?”

Yes, gone are the days of burning kisses. But for those among us who still yearn for a little fire in life, there are, anyway, habanero peppers.

Habaneros are native to the Yucatan peninsula, not to Havana as the name implies. They are odd, boxy little peppers that start out green and turn a beautiful sunny orange when ripe, and it is at that stage that they are most seductive. They are among the hottest peppers in the world, but it’s not just their heat that makes them irresistible, it’s their amazing bouquet.

Cut into a ripe habanero and out rushes a smell that has been called fruity – which it is, but maybe sort of forbidden-fruity – and flowery – which it is, but it’s a Dr. Rappaccini’s-poison-garden kind of flowery. It’s a fiery, intoxicating orange perfume like nothing else in the universe, and once you get hooked nothing else in the universe will do.Habaneros are too hot to be eaten out of hand. I have known a couple ofpeople who have, but these tended to be of the male persuasion and did so less for pleasure than to make some statement regarding the physiological evidence of their gender, an appendage, by the way, that historically has led to other decisions equally unwise.

But chopped fine and well diluted with onion and tomato, raw habaneros make an incomparable salsa fresca, and habanero chili will get you through the most Siberian of winters.

Or you can make them into habanero sauce.

Begin by growing habaneros. You can buy plants at a garden center or start your own easily from seed. In late April, transplant three feet apart somewhere they get plenty of sun. Keep them weeded and don’t worry much about water, and your plants will oblige you by festooning themselves with peppers that keep coming until frost as long as you pick them promptly. If you don’t have time to deal with them immediately, you can freeze them, whole and unprocessed, in Zip-loc bags, where they’ll keep for a year.

To make the sauce: Put on gloves! The capsaicin in habaneros, which is what makes them hot, burns skin like napalm, and no matter how well you protect your hands they’re going to hurt anyway, but gloves give you a fighting chance.

With a sharp knife, core each pepper and remove the seeds. The more nimbly you can do this, the less the pain will be later. While processing the peppers, and for as long afterwards as humanly possible, don’t touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or any other sensitive part of the body.

Nor anybody else’s, for that matter, I should note bitterly, for such among the readership as may still be so fortunate as to have opportunity to profit by such advice.

Put the peppers in a pot, add white vinegar to cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Then puree in the blender or food processor, add salt to taste, pour into jars or bottles, and eat on everything except breakfast cereal.

Just a few plants produce a lot of sauce, and a little goes a long way. Thus, historically I’ve been awash with the stuff, passing it out like business cards to people who don’t even want it. Then one day I opened the pantry door to find there was nothing behind the paper towels but more paper towels. My habanero supply had gone extinct before I’d even known it was endangered.

Like so much else.

But on a positive note, habaneros are a renewable source of sizzle, and soon a summer crop will add bright orange color to my gray existence. I must not repine.

If I seem to, it is just that the siren call of spring inspires strange longings in blood not yet cold, and sometimes a girl simply aches for –

Habanero sauce, Gentle Reader. Habanero sauce.

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