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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> history

I just received the July, 2009 issue of Saveur, my favorite food magazine, and it's a special Texas issue which is really a fun read with great recipes.  I was delighted to spot friends of mine as contributors, including Sharon Hudgins and Robb Walsh.  Sharon and Robb were two of the three great writers ("The Triumvirate," I used to call them) who I depended on for quality content when I was editor of the original Chile Pepper magazine from 1987 to 1996. (The third member of that group was Richard Sterling, who lives in Berkeley and Vietnam and isn't a Texan.)  In this Texas issue, Sharon writes about chuck wagon cooking and Robb covers chicken-fried steak, oysters, mesquite, and vaquero (Mexican cowboy) cooking.  To see them in this issue brought back fond memories of all the fun we had in the "old days" (remember the first Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, Robb?)  Also making appearances are three New Mexicans I know and like, Deborah Madison, probably the most accomplished writer on vegetarian subjects, and Cheryl and Bill Jamison, who were kind enough to write a cover blurb for my upcoming (September) book with Paul Bosland, The Complete Chile Pepper Book.  Congrats to all of you for a wonderful special issue of Saveur.


Back in 1994-95, the big chile pepper story was that eating the pods caused stomach cancer.  We investigated this allegation and published this report.  Back  then I wrote, "Let's put this absurdity to rest right now.  Despite all the mass media hype and paranoia, there is not one bit of credible evidence linking chile peppers with causing any type of cancer.   Period."  Here is the full story.

by Gerald Schmidt

China is red. More than just in the flag, more than in its political philosophy. Traditionally, red is the color of luck. The color of the clothes people marry in. The color on many temples. The color of the banners and charms put up around New Year. No wonder, then, that the chile peppers' role in culture comes to a high point in China: In many sizes, many forms, in rare cases even in a few colors, one finds the chile pepper as part of good luck charms.
One of the first questions one learns when eating out, whether in restaurants or on the street: Do you eat chile pepper? (And it's not just the foreigners who get asked that!) I teach at a university.  I once asked my students what they did when they felt unhappy. One reply: I eat.  Not chocolate, but hot and spicy food.  Chile peppers even made it into a Chinese/Tibetan medicinal treatise that was written (for the greatest part, actually, painted) between 1750 and 1800.  It suggested taking chile peppers and honey, hailing that concoction a drug to prolong life. Hot food is a good point also considering that China does not have heating south of the Yellow River.  What one hears in winter, contrary to the popular theory about the chile pepper's great role in hot regions, cooling us off by making us sweat: they are heavily consumed in the cold months, for heating up.  Of course, they are also widely eaten during the hot months.  Here and there, chile peppers hang outside like ristras. And there are the good luck charms which look like them.  Sometimes, aside all the red lanterns, one wonders what design the Chinese could possibly have used on their decorations and charms before the chile peppers were introduced.


ChimayĆ³ Chiles Not a Myth

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Earlier in this blog I wrote about the "legendary Hatch chiles" being a total myth, but this time I'm writing about the northern New Mexico Chimayó chiles that are an endangered food crop.  They are a land race of chiles, meaning that they have been grown in the same area for hundreds of years and thus have become, with the hand of man, a cultivated variety.  An institute has been formed to save the Chimayó chiles and they are making a slight come back.  To read our article on northern New Mexico land races of chiles, go here.  To read about the Native Hispanic Institute, go here.


Historic Photo of Abelino & Faustino Martinez

The Feast of St. Anthony

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: tasty travel , holidays , history

On January 17, Italian Catholics celebrated the Feast of St. Anthony by, well, feasting.  My friend Marco Budinis traveled to Chiavari for its feast.  He writes: "In Italy Saint Anthony the Abbot is remembered for being the protector of domesticated animals.  In several towns in Italy (as it is in Chiavari in January) several celebrations are held run and there are also country fairs, mostly with booths with food stuff, but also plants such as lemon trees, orange trees and so on.  We feasted on porchetta (above) and spicy olives, cheese, and salami."  Porchetta, of course, is boned whole small pigs stuffed with garlic, rosemary, and fennel.  Mary Jane, Harald & Renate, and I tasted this at the big CIBUS food show in Parma last May, and I think porchetta is one of the best foods I've ever tasted.  St. Anthony is also the patron saint of ergotism, a poisoning caused by the ingestion of alkaloids produced by the Claviceps purpurea fungus that infects rye and other cereals that are used to make bread.  The condition is called "St. Anthony's Fire" and the symptoms are hallucinations, painful seizures, and spasms.  Ergot is a precursor to LSD and some experts believe it caused the Salem witch trials because people afflicted with ergotism from infected bread acted so strangely they were thought to be witches.

Hot Sauce History

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Much of what we know about now-extinct brands of hot sauces comes from bottle collectors. There is not a great body of material on the subject of collectible hot sauce bottles, but we are indebted to Betty Zumwalt, author of Ketchup, Pickles, Sauces: 19th Century Food in Glass, who dutifully catalogued obscure hot sauce bottles found by collectors. Many bottles in the hands of collectors were uncovered from archaeological digs and shipwrecks.... Story continues here.


My First BBQ Joint Still Open!

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: history , barbecue products

I was looking through Michael Karl Witzel's fun new book, Barbecue Road Trip, when I spotted a reference to Bill's Barbecue in Richmond, Virginia.  This brought back a flood of memories.  In 1967, I was in graduate school at the University of Richmond and lived on Monument Avenue, just a few blocks from Bill's.  I never had much BBQ when I was growing up in northern Virginia, so I started getting takeout from Bill's.  Invariably it was the same thing everytime: minced pork topped with coleslaw and a eastern North Carolina-style barbecue sauce.  And Bill's is still in business today, 78 1/2 years after its founding on June 2, 1930.  There never was a "Bill."  An out-of-work sign maker named the restaurant and painted the logo on the front window--in trade for some barbecue, of course.  The logo is still the same, and it looks like it was designed in 1930:


Tons of New Content Posted!

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: tasty travel , smoking , hot sauce , history , gardening



We've been busy of late posting lots of interesting new articles on the SuperSite.  Check out:

  • Kobe: Not Bryant, but the best beef you've never tasted, here.
  • Tabasco: 135-year-old bottle uncovered, here.
  • Chile Growing: Turn your basement in a pod-producing garden, here.
  • Stovetop Smoking: Baby, it's cold outside, so smoke indoors, here.
  • Tasty Travel: Singapore Sling, here.


It's been more than five years now that an Indian "Mystery Chile" was making headlines, and claims for such a "new" variety were published in print, and all over the Internet. With almost one million Scoville Units, it was supposed to be several times hotter than the Red SavinaTM, the current holder of that title in the Guinness World Records. Time and again the hot pod popped up in the news, yet no one in the Western world had seen it. That has changed recently, as new claims for such a potent pepper came from the UK, and also from the renowned Chile Pepper Institute of the New Mexico State University.  Read the entire story, by Harald Zoschke, here.

NM Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: history

New at one of my favorite New Mexico museums is a display called "Real Cristales: Royal Crystals of La Granja, Spain," that features about 70 pieces that were produced in a glass factory under the direction of the King of Spain. Most of the pieces were created around 1760 and were later sold in Mexico.


The exhibit runs through December 8th.  For more information on the museum, go here.

Full disclosure:  I am chair of the governing board of this museum. 

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