My sister-in-law in Los Angeles has a very nice backyard and, in days past, she used to have a flourishing vegetable garden. However, between the drought and the gophers, the vegetable garden is now only a memory. Los Angeles, and much of Southern California, hasn’t had any rain in the last three years and the watering restrictions make it difficult even to maintain a lawn. Perhaps as a consequence of the shortage of water, even the lemon tree in my SIL’s backyard is not yielding any fruit. As for the gophers, they devoured the roots of her vegetable plants and destroyed them. They seem to have disappeared now, searching for greener pastures no doubt, but the damage is done. The only plants in my SIL’s vegetable garden now are four chili pepper plants. And what plants!
They are among the hottest chili peppers extant. They are the fearsome Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Chili( 900,000 – 1,100,000 Scoville Heat Units), the even hotter Naga Viper or Cobra Chili ( 1,250,000 – 1,320,000 SHU) , the Fatali ( 350,000 – 500,000SHU) and the comparatively mild but still potent Chili Pequin ( 350,000 to 5000,000 SHU).To give you an idea of how hot these chilis are, compare them with the Jalapeno ( 3,500 to 8,000 SHU) and the Serrano ( 5,000 to 23,000 SHU). In other words, the Bhut Jolokia or Ghost pepper is about two hundred and twenty times as hot as a jalapeno !
Now, I know that there are “chiliheads” who glory in eating the hottest peppers and even rubbing them in their eyes and seeing how long they can stand the pain. My sister-in-law is not one of these chili fanatics. I asked her why she was growing these ultra-hot peppers. She said she got into it after the gophers destroyed her garden and she just got interested in the different varieties of peppers that were available in the garden store that she goes to. She likes hot food but draws the line at peppers that are as hot as these are. What she does is freeze them and use them sparingly in her cooking. A little goes a long way. While we were in LA she prepared a wonderful mutton curry and for two and a half pounds of meat, and she used one of the Bhut Jolokia chilis. Just one, but even so our lips tingled. She also dries the peppers and grinds them into a fine powder which she uses sparingly in her cooking.
While we were still in LA. it was time to pick the chili pequins and I volunteered to pick them. These peppers are barely half an inch long and they stand up rather than hang down from the plant. When fully ripe, they are a beautiful red color which makes them easy to see and harvest. The more conventionally shaped cobras, however, are like cayenne peppers except that they turn from green to black to red. The Bhut Jolokias look like Habaneros or Scotch Bonnets , but they are of course much hotter.
Anyway, back to the chili picking. When I started, it was pleasantly warm and I soon got into a rhythm. Early in the process, I decided that I would have to be very systematic as otherwise it would take me much longer to harvest the chilis.I concentrated on one branch of the plant at a time and picked all the chilis starting at the top and working my way to the bottom. Only after that branch was completely denuded of its chilis did I go to the next branch. In half an hour, I had garnered 500 or so of the chilis and there was not a speck of red on the plant. By that time, the sun was much higher and the sweat was beginning to trickle down my back.
Working in the garden is conducive to thinking because after a while the physical part of the job becomes automatic and the mind wanders to this , that and something else. In my case, I couldn’t help thinking how hard it is to work in the fields. I’m sure you have seen photos or videos of farm laborers bent over as they transplant rice seedling. It is back-breaking work and they endure it hour after hour, day after day in the planting season. I didn’t have to bend as much and I only worked for half an hour and I was happy when I was done.
P.S Many of the world’s hottest peppers originate in India, specifically from the northeastern states of Assam and Nagaland. Both the Ghost Chili and the Cobra chili are from there , as are many other hotties. When the imaginatively named Ghost Chili shot into prominence about four or five years ago, it was the hottest chili in the world but it was soon overtaken by the Naga Viper or Cobra Chili. Now that too has been superseded. Today the two hottest chilis are The Carolina Reaper ( 1,540,000 SHU0 )and the Australian Trinidad Scorpion Butch T ( 1, 464,000 SHU).