In Praise of The Jalapeño
For a while before he moved down to the coastal Carolinas, where the main things coming out of the ground seem to be Bermuda grass and the occasional alligator, my Renaissance Dad (see: stained glass making, wine making, wood carving, furniture refinishing, deck building, etc. …) had a thing for the backyard garden.
For a few years in Ohio he had annual yields from his fruit trees, grapevine and pepper crop. Some he mashed into wine and brandy. The peppers he pretty much put on anything, unless he was thrusting a jar in our hands for the trip back to college or first apartments.
I don’t know that I did much with those jars back then. I was more apt to pick up dinner out and store a case of beer or three in the fridge back home. The peppers got pushed to the back.
But I do remember a curious grade school habit: filling a coffee cup with mixed peppers from a jar at home — banana peppers, jalapeno, poblano, habanero, and the mild, fat Anaheim — and fork them out over after-school cartoons.
Well, glad to say that somewhere between 10 and my 30s my tastes matured.
Add a Bit of Bite
I mean, for years I’d throw a heap of banana peppers on my packed-from-home roast beef or turkey sandwiches, and banana peppers were de rigueur for a meatball or Italian sub.
But as my palette ages, and my tastebuds deaden, and I gradually die inside — kidding… although this might explain my taste for the peatiest, smokiest band-aid water, I mean scotch, known to man — I’ve traded the benign, neon banana pepper for the heat of the jalapeno.
They’ve got just the right fresh green taste, the perfect amount of bite to throw on pizza. Any kind of pizza — pepperoni with sausage and green onions and (you see where this is going) chorizo, chicken and bacon and barbecue sauce. I’d even throw them in the mix with the famous pierogi pizza (mashed potatoes, onions, cheese) dished up by Pino’s in Pittsburgh.
I love a generous pile of jalapenos on a toasted tuna sandwich, or sauteed in the base of hamburger, sausage, onion, green pepper, red pepper garlic and diced tomatoes that evolves into my homemade chili.
Throw ’em on a burger with some pepper jack cheese. Slip them in an Italian sausage sub with a little giardiniera, mozzarella, dust it with parmesan.
I’ll even tolerate them in their seediest pub form, fried into poppers or drowning in nacho cheese.
Officially, they’re a fruit…. Which is acceptable, I guess.
But then, maybe that makes them the baddest-ass fruit of all!
Take your bow, humble Jalapeno. Packed with more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A than tomatoes, you’ve been found to aid weight loss, fight cancer cells and tumors, prevent bacteria growth, curb colds, boost immunity, treat migraines, and improve eyesight.
More macho than the bell and a far cry from the ghoulish ghost pepper. You’re the Goldilocks of capsaicin heat — just about damn right.