Peppers growing in the garden hold poignant and somewhat painful memories for me. It's unfortunate really, being that one of the few things that loves to grow in a Texas summer is the pepper.
I blame it all on Axl Rose. I, like many a seventh grader in the late '80's, lived and died by Appetite for Destruction. My best friend and I carefully transcribed every word to every song on that record. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that to this day I can sing every word of every song, from Mr. Brownstone to the ubiquitous Sweet Child O' Mine. We'd carry a walkman around with us, with the little "Y" connection, so we could each have our own set of headphones and listen to it together. We took that tape from our class trip to DC to our summer camp on a lake out in the Texas hill country. And we thought we were total badasses.
Despite being such a badass and freely being allowed to listen to Guns 'n Roses, watching them on MTV was deemed far too risky and dangerous behavior for a girl my age. Now I'm not sure I can find a good reason why watching the Welcome to the Jungle video would have been beneficial to me as a pre-teen. However, I'm just saying, learning what the lyrics meant to all of the Guns 'n Roses songs was, no doubt, a far greater risk to a girl of twelve than watching Axl prance around the stage in white leggings and a carefully coordinated white leather jacket. I'm just saying.
Nonetheless, my mother was no friend of MTV and she was not going to let it poison the mind of her eldest daughter (my little sister, on the other hand, got access to everything I was denied... the painful truth of being the firstborn).
It was a chilly Saturday morning and I had settled onto the couch with my bowl of cheerios anxiously awaiting the promised airing of the Paradise City video on MTV. In the background I heard the muffled shouts of mother yelling for me to turn off MTV. The shouts turned to threats and still I ignored them, hoping for my one brief glimpse of Axl and Slash, knowing any punishment would be worth it. And knowing I'd never been punished in my life as far as I could remember. So how bad could it be?
Seconds after the video came on my mother stormed into the room and turned the TV off. Apparently this time was different, apparently she did have a punishment for me. Apparently this time she meant business.
Had I known what was coming I may not have been so quick to watch Paradise City, which was surely, in my Guns 'n Roses obsessed opinion, the lamest Guns 'n Roses song of all time. I stand by that statement today. Had I known how absolutely disgusting and cruel my punishment would be, I could have passed on my morning Axl Rose fix.
Now some kids get grounded. Some kids lose phone privileges. Some kids are even docked allowance. Not me. I was marched out to the garden and handed a paper bag. It became apparent that my task was to fill that bag with the remnants of the summer garden. At this point it was no earlier than October. Summer's furious heat had already borne down upon the garden turning it into a brittle brown mess of sticks. Everything but the peppers. The pepper plants too were dried and dead. However, they still were heavy with fruit. Apparently no one took it upon themselves to harvest the peppers when they were ripe, instead leaving them on the vine to turn from green to red and from red to... redder.
My task was to pull these plants up and stuff them into the bag. Despite my extreme annoyance in doing anything that my mom considered "fun", I determined this wasn't such a bad punishment. I'd soon be back in the TV room, sneaking my MTV. Well, it was no more than five minutes into pulling the pepper plants that I realized why this job was in fact punishment. The peppers had not in fact dried to brilliant red husks on the vine. No no no no. The peppers had rotted on the vine, each red skin held a stinking pudding of horrible red slime. Within minutes I was wearing this slime and gagging on the horrendous stench. It was, quite simply, appalling.
So no, peppers in the garden were never something I longed for. I can still smell the rotten stink of them today when I picture that Paradise City video. Although, like I said, it's just as well because I don't care for the song and the video is actually pretty dull.
Last summer, though, I was stocking my garden and stumbled across a plant I'd never thought to grow. I came across a paprika pepper plant. How exotic! As a Hungarian I feel I should be better acquainted with the plant, but due to the watered down powdered specimens available for sale here I've never been sold on the stuff. This was an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
Well, like I said, peppers love life down here in Texas and those peppers grew beautifully. I must have harvested about forty from the plant, a feat considering the massive drought we're in. I diligently dried all of them on my front porch and left them sitting in a basket in my kitchen until this weekend. As I poked through my weekend to-do list I remembered the paprika peppers and realized I should probably grind those up and store them before heading off to California.
I popped their stems off, emptied them of most of their seeds and stuffed them in my spice grinder. Ten minutes and I had a heaping pile of gloriously red-orange paprika. Not only was it the most gorgeous color, it was heavenly to smell. It was intensely paprika-y and extremely spicy. I touched it and made the mistake of wiping my face and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wipe the orange stain from my cheek.
No, I don't have a recipe for you today, but I do have a challenge. Grow your own spices! Okay, fair enough, it's not that simple to set up a spice garden in your backyard. But it's so very very easy to grow peppers. Once you pick them you can dry them in the sun or you can smoke them for a more Spanish version. I'm just sorry I have to wait four months to experiment with my paprika which is stashed away in my freezer. I'll just have to be sure to use those four months to dream all of the ways I can use up all of that spicy paprika.