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Historical and Hysterical Reactions to Eating Chile PDF Print E-mail
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Historical and Hysterical Reactions to Eating Chile
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Edited by Dave DeWitt

Chiles Drying on Adobe HouseThe men of this rancho had all gone to the war and the house was full of women, who made supper for us all. We were twelve in number. We had tortillas, frijoles, and carne seca, stewed up, with chile Colorado. My readers may translate these terms for themselves. To me, it was all very delicious till I helped myself to what I thought was a dish of tomatoes. It was pure chile—red pepper. It was fire itself. I was burning all the way down and up and every other way. I jumped from the table and ran for the creek. Finally, by copious use of the cold water, I quenched the heat, and went back to the house to find all the women laughing at me.

--Jacob Wright Harlan, California '46 to '88. San Francisco: The Bancroft Company, 1888.

The sutler-woman, in bringing round to us for sale large earthen jars of hashed mutton, "chile," and tortillas, would first serve to their own officers a saucer full generally for a medio, the sixteenth of a dollar, which they would eat with their fingers. There are only a few of the richest people in Mexico who own knives and forks, and the most of them handle them with as little grace as a cornfield negro would a rapier. The tortilla is a cake of bread made of Indian corn, about the thickness of upper leather, and quite as pliant. This cake not only serves the Mexicans as bread, but answers the triple purpose of knife, fork, and spoon: he with surprising dexterity will tear off a piece, and with his thumb and the two first fingers of his dexter hand, the fore finger being in the centre, so as to give it a spoon shape, dip up the red chops, and at every dip a new spoon disappears. The immense quantity of chile, "red pepper," used in cooking gives everything cooked more the appearance of being submerged in a paint-bucket of oil and red lead than eatable gravy.

--Thomas Jefferson Green, Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier: Subsequent Imprisonment of the Author; His Sufferings, and the Final Escape from the Castle of Perote. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1845.


The Mexicans seem to have stomachs made from leather judging from the way they endure excessive drinking, smoking (both men and women indulging in both), and the amount of chile they use. This chile is similar to our pepper. I know that it is awfully hot stuff and must be very injurious to the mucous membrane of the stomach. If I ate one-tenth as much at a time as a native would, it would take the roof off my mouth. I shall never forget my first experience; it was while we were staging and we stopped to change mules and get dinner. It was an entirely Mexican establishment except the American beer which gets even way down here. Well, I began eating,—there were two Americans, one a Dr. Norris of New York, and two Mexicans traveling with me—and Dr. Norris asked me to try the chile pronouncing it very good (he has been in this country before), the Mexicans also said the same. I went at it very charily. It is a suspicious-looking article the way they prepare it. I ate and it seemed that there might be some trace of cantharides on the roof of my mouth. They remarked that is nothing and keep right on, might just as well begin now as later. The Mexicans kept on laughing. Nothing daunted, I kept bravely on, determined not to give up before them. But I didn't care for any more chile for one while. A Mexican dinner is enjoyable nevertheless for a change.

--Paul Opperman, El Oro, Mexico, July 16, 1896. Cleveland Medical Gazette, Volume 11, 1896.


But a dish more generally eaten than any other is meat cooked with red pepper, called "chile con carne." It is perfectly red, and, at times, even strong enough to sear the throat in its downward passage. Should tears come in the effort to eat it, just let them flow, but go on with the mastication. In this, as in all other things (perseverantia omnia vincit), “perseverance overcomes all things.” It is truly wonderful how the human system will accommodate itself to such edibles, but it does, and survives the burning ordeal. I have seen the red pepper pods cooked themselves, and these are eaten with a great relish. They are fried or baked, and have the appearance of cooked tomatoes. These, I have thought, are not so strong, so fiery as the red pepper we find in the States, and hence, the eater survives his meal. This red pepper is served with dried jerked beef, and I must say makes it more palatable, "When the dose is given in moderate quantities."

--J. R. Flippin, Sketches from the Mountains of Mexico.  Cincinnati, Standard Publishing Co., 1889.


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