We got out of town on Labor Day weekend – just for a day trip on Saturday. No trips to the beach, no mountain excursions, no lounging by a hotel pool. (Also no Luke the wonder dog, who spent the day frolicking with other dogs at the Spa.) We drove to the big city (Raleigh, NC) for some serious consumering. And we may have surpassed any previously established endurance record, even for us: three grocery stores and one farmers’ market in one day. We have skills.
We live in a small town, which has adequate grocery store choices, and a nice weekly farmers’ market, but sometimes we just want to be amazed. The North Carolina State Farmers Market is glorious to behold. It is open 365 days of the year. It is vast and sprawling. https://www.ncagr.gov/markets/facilities/markets/raleigh/ The market is 30,000 square feet of fresh produce and plants, with baked goods, crafts, and floral displays. It is enormous.
We parked the car under a shady tree and began to wander though the crowd with our NPR shopping totes grasped in our sweaty little paws. We pushed our way through the first building, looking at artful piles of peaches, tomatoes, okra, onions, and cabbages. There were also displays of potted garden plants, hand-tied bouquets of flowers, hand-made baskets, watermelons, sunflowers, burlap bags of peanuts, and an abundance of brightly-colored dahlias. It was difficult to know when to stop and make a decision. If we buy peaches from this farmer, what if the next farmer’s booth has prettier peaches? Suddenly we were confronted with our inability to make a single choice. Stendahl Syndrome had overwhelmed us in under half an hour. We were not in Florence, nor were we viewing magnificent paintings, but our senses were quickly overloaded with information, colors, options, babies in strollers, the rich and heady smell of fresh lilies, and noise. Luckily, sharing a freshly baked chocolate cookie seemed to revive us.
Nothing on earth could prepare you for the peppers display in one enormous and colorful booth. It was incredible. It was epic and grandiose. It was Homeric. Ronnie Moore’s Fruits & Veggies floored me. Listen to the varieties of hot peppers arranged on one side of the display: Thai Chilies, Tabasco, Scotch Bonnet, Jamaican Scotch Bonnet, Big Red Naga, Big Black Naga, Naga, White Ghost, and Habanero. You were invited to mix and match. There are more: Death Spiral, Bleeding Borg, Big Red Mama, Sugar Rush, Serrano, Hot Banana, Dragon’s Toe, Cayenne, Carolina Reaper, Holy Mary and Wicked Ass.
Holy smokes, literally. I grew up very bland food home. We had the occasional green bell pepper, sliced and tossed into an iceberg lettuce salad. I am so much more sophisticated and worldly now – I buy red, yellow and green bell peppers for our bagged spring greens and spinach salads. I use at least one jalapeño a week. I have a jars of cayenne powder and paprika tucked in with all my out-of-date dried spices. Ronnie Moore would laugh at the lack of pepper heat in our diets. There is a lot of living to be done outside our little town.
I bet the heat from all those peppers ranges from mild, fruity and sweet, to spicy and feeling a little heat, a bit of singe, to an intense, crazy burn. I don’t know if I have the genetic fortitude to tolerate the intense heat, since mere pickled jalepeños make me sweat.
Luckily, there have been brave folks who have done the research and invented the Scoville Scale which measure units of heat in peppers. Example: Carolina Reaper: 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units, while a Scotch Bonnet has a mere 350,000 SHU. A Tabasco pepper has 50,000 SHU, while a Jalapeño has 10,000 SHU. A Bell pepper has 0 SHU, and a Chipolte has 8,000 SHU.
Here is a handy, dandy reference for you if you wander into a pepper display: https://pepperjoe.com/pages/hot-pepper-heat-scale
We came home from the Market with big bags of tomatoes and peaches, and a cardboard container of okra. We’re going to enjoy a couple more sweet tomato sandwiches, which taste like summer to me. I’ll wait until winter to try the warming heat of a Scotch Bonnet or a Dragon’s Toe. Go visit a farmers’ market this weekend, and be prepared to be amazed!
I love the warning that precedes this recipe – to wear gloves when handling the Scotch Bonnet peppers. I have gotten jalapeño juice in my eyes before, and it is painful. Scotch Bonnet juice must be truly alarming. https://www.savoringitaly.com/easy-pickled-scotch-bonnet-peppers/
“Pepper and salt are indispensable in a delicious meal but if they dominate other ingredients, the meal is ruined.”
― Vincent Okay Nwachukwu