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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke

A Mayan "Christmas Feast": Peccary Tamales

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: recipe , holidays , history


Peccary Tamale BowlThree hundred and fifty years after the birth of Jesus Christ, the Mayas in Mexico and Guatemala had never heard of this revered person, but they still celebrated their holidays with tamales—lots of them. Recent discoveries in 2010 at the medium-sized Mayan city of El Zotz in Guatemala included a tamale bowl with the representation of the head of a peccary, also called a javelina. This is pretty clear evidence that the pig-like peccary's meat was probably contained within the maize dough of the tamales. According to other archaeological finds, the tamales were served topped with either a squash seed sauce (pipián) or a chile sauce much like we eat today.

Although peccary meat is available in markets all over South America, I could not find a Peccary or Javelinacommercial source for it in the U.S., so you will have to find a hunting guide and shoot one. During slaughtering the first thing to do is remove the musk gland at the end of the backbone or it will taint the meat. My friend Dave Jackson has been peccary hunting in the “bootheel” of southwestern New Mexico and says it's exciting and dangerous because herds of peccaries have attacked and killed humans before.

Tamales Awaiting the Sauce, by Chel BeesonThis recipe would be a close approximation of the Mayan tamales, with pork substituted for the peccary meat. People who have consumed peccary meat (I haven't, yet), say that it has a naturally smoky flavor, and it's been compared to pork, lamb, and veal. So, enjoy a uniquely American Mayan Christmas dinner and remember that early American cuisines like that of the Maya and Aztecs was more sophisticated than that of Europe at the same time.

Hot Rod Grill w/Lid

When I think macho, a couple things come to mind: cars, BBQ, and showing off. If you know a Man’s Man, he probably loves all three. Put them together, and you’ve got the Holy Trinity of guy-dom.

Luckily, there’s a company out there that’s done just that. Hot Rod Grills is exactly what the name suggests. Dressed up as a high performance motor on an engine stand, the Hot Rod Grill gives new meaning to the term “Fire it up.”

It’s the only grill on the market featuring an authentic 1:1 scale for a realistic engine look, including a die-cast aluminum lid and body, two stainless steel tube burners with individual controls and a temperature gauge that looks like its part of the engine. And yes, those headers work, except the only smoke coming out of them will contain the delicious aroma of BBQ.

Grill enthusiasts and motorheads alike will flock to your front yard (because who could hide such a beautiful thing on a back porch?). Add the available spark plug corncob holders and connecting rod skewers, and you’ll be the biggest, baddest dude on the block.

Click here to see more pictures of the Hot Rod Grill.


Naga ViperWe wanted to make sure that everyone understands the position of University of Warwick regarding testing of the Naga Viper.  Peter Dunn, head of communications, just sent us this statement:

The University of Warwick School of Life Sciences has been asked by a number of growers to test Chillies to ascertain their heat level on the Scoville Scale. Each of those tests has been done as a commercial service to those clients and the University has not publicized or press released any of the results.

One of those clients recently asked us to test a Chilli they described as a "Naga Viper".  We completed the test and gave the results to the client. We have since seen a number of media publish those results under headlines that this indicates that the tested Chilli is the hottest in the world.

We also understand from news reports that there has been some interest in having this published as a fact in the Guinness Book of Records.

While we cannot release our full report on this Chilli without the commercial client's express permission, we can say that we feel that any result obtained from the Chilli sample that was tested by us should be viewed as only a good indicator that this Chilli could meet the conditions of entry into the Guinness Book of Records. The sample provided to us was relatively small and, while we do not know explicitly what the Guinness Book of Records testing requirements would be, we would expect that they would require at least one more test with a larger sample and possibly a corroborating test in another lab.

Founding Foodies a Hit with Reviewers

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: history , books

Cover of The Founding FoodiesI'm pleased to note that my latest book, The Founding Foodies, is getting good reviews.  Here's a sampling:

“You've put together a wonderfully detailed and rollicking culinary tale. It's one I will look forward to sharing with friends. I love your excursions into the English figuring out what to eat, Valley Forge myths, the importance of the salt industry, and the importance of fishing in the new Republic. Cool stuff woven into a compelling narrative.” —Leni A. Sorensen, Ph.D., African-American Research Historian, Monticello

"This book wholly represents the culinary traditions and passions of important historical figures like Thomas Jefferson – a true scholar and gastronome. It is a fascinating tale of how our nation’s third president elegantly married French and American cookery. Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Foodies is sure to enlighten and entertain everyone from historians to home cooks."  —Walter Staib, Chef/Proprietor, City Tavern Restaurant, Philadelphia, and star and host of the PBS series, "A Taste of History"

"A deft combination of primary-source material, historical context, entertaining tidbits, and authentic recipes, this highly readable piece of popular history is sure to have wide appeal." —Neil Derksen, Library Journal

This would make a great Christmas present for your foodie friends, and you can order a copy here.

Cactus Christmas TreeHere at the SuperSite, we have assembled a tasty array of holiday articles and recipes from many of our writers.  Chile peppers are a common theme and appear in Christmas recipes around the world, from snacks to desserts. Here is a brief overview.


Chile WreathRed and Green For the Holidays. Mistletoe and holly are endangered species around here—everywhere we look in the Southwest, the traditional red and green decorations of the holiday season are dominated by the very same colors of New Mexico’s powerful state vegetable, the chile pepper. The abundance of chile gift items boosts the pungent pod to primary status as a New Mexico Christmas symbol.

A Chile PiñataA Chile-Blessed Christmas Around the World. New Mexico is not the only place where the pungent pod plays a roll in holiday fare.  In many countries where Christmas is celebrated, chiles are an integral ingredient in traditional holiday foods.

Deep-Fried Cajun TurkeyDeep-Fried Cajun Turkey for Christmas. Despite the three-day process, it’s well worth the effort to cook turkey this way. Created in the South, this method of cooking a turkey is gaining popularity all across the country. This process produces a succulent turkey and if the oil is at the correct temperature, a crisp, not greasy skin.

It's a Party!Sizzling Snacks for Holiday Entertaining. Ah, the holidays…when friends can drop in unexpectedly and expect to be fed. Don’t be caught unprepared! Here in New Mexico, a really great party always contains some spicy munchies. Chile peppers can be found in every course, from drinks and appetizers to entrees and even dessert.

Old Town FarolitosChristmas Eve Dishes from New Mexico. Christmas Eve in New Mexico is a very special night steeped in tradition and probably no other image symbolizes the season more than the flickering lights from the brown paper bags, called luminarias or farolitos, that line the walkways and outline buildings and houses throughout the state.

Holiday FeastA Multi-Cultural Holiday Feast.  It's the time of year that friends and family gather to enjoy each other's company, to reflect on the year that is passing, make resolutions for the upcoming one, and hopefully, eat way too much hot and spicy food and barbecue. The celebrations seem to be non-stop for the entire month. Ever wonder why there are so many in December?

Spicy TiramisuHeavenly Holiday Treats: Desserts with a Tangy Twist.  As a devout chilehead, I constantly look for a little bit of heat in my food.  I've found my favorite recipes for fiery appetizers, sizzling soups, and exciting entrees.  The only category that I was disappointed with was desserts.  As rich, creamy, and decadent as desserts can be, there was something missing: a little spice, a little zing, a little heat. That's what I was searching for.

Sauza SignSpicy Drinks for New Year's.  Many people compose their New Year's Resolutions at this time of the year, but I prefer New Year's Revolutions: hot and spicy drinks to celebrate in a toast to the coming year, which I vow to make the best year of my life.  Yes, yes, I've been known to be infected with PMA: Positive Mental Attitude.  Salud!

Pecan Grove, Las CrucesChiles had their moments of fame back in the 1980s and early '90s when they were easily New Mexico's number one food crop. But as the pecan groves expanded and the trees matured, pecans have steadily stolen the chiles' thunder. These days, the pecan crop value is nearly double that of chile peppers.

In 2007, New Mexico pecan growers were dancing in their groves this spring after becoming the leading U.S. pecan-producing state in 2006, displacing Georgia, typically the national champ. The 46 million-pound crop was valued at about $85 million, with grower prices at about $1.85 per pound. Last year, New Mexico produced 68 million pounds of pecans in the shell in 2009 to rank No. 2; Georgia produced about 79 million pounds to comePecans in Husks in first. Texas came in third. But New Mexico recorded the highest price per pound in the shell — $1.76. Arizona ranked second at $1.72 per pound, and California was third with $1.51 per pound.

But I'm not sad for the chiles—after all, it's quality, not quantity. So, as the pecan harvest begins, let's combine the two favorite crops of New Mexico.

Pecan and Chile Cheese Roll
Pecan and Chile Cheese Roll

Although it’s easy to prepare and extremely tasty, believe me, this ain’t your grandmother’s cheese ball. Although this type of appetizer has graced party tables for years, this one will soon become a new favorite. I use pecans because they are so plentiful here, but substitute walnuts or almonds if you prefer.  Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

1/2 cup chopped green New Mexico chile, which has been roasted and peeled
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons ground red New Mexico chile
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Combine the chile and the cheeses in a bowl and mix well. Refrigerate until firm.

Toss the pecans in the ground chile until well coated.

Roll the cheese between 2 pieces of wax paper to form a log. Then roll the log in the crushed nuts and chile for 8 hours before serving.

To serve, place the cheese log on a platter and arrange crackers around the cheese and place a knife on the platter for spreading.

Yield: 1 log
Heat Scale: Medium

Sichuan peppers
Dried Sichuan peppers & husks

Sichuan pepper is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, but you may not know the whole story behind this unique spice. If you’re a fan of Asian cuisine, there are a few things you should know about Sichuan peppers.

  1. Sichuan peppers (known in Chinese as hua jiao) aren’t related to chili peppers or black pepper. They’re actually the fruits of the prickly ash tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum)! To make things more confusing, they’ve been marketed as ”brown peppercorns”, "Szechwan pepper," "Chinese pepper," "Japanese pepper," "aniseed pepper," "Sprice pepper," "Chinese prickly-ash,"
    Sichuan Pepper Plant
    Sichuan pepper plant
    "Fagara," "sansho," "Nepal pepper," "Indonesian lemon pepper," and others.
  2. Sichuan peppers aren’t exactly “hot” in the way white pepper or chili pepperscan taste.Instead, along with a citrusy flavor, the tiny fruits cause a numbing,tingling sensation in the mouth. The active ingredient in Sichuan peppers is hydroxyl alpha sanshool (or “sanshool” for short). So, while capsaicincausesspiciness in chile peppers, and piperidine causes the hot, biting flavor ofblack and white peppercorns, sanshool causes a “pins and needles” sensation, as if you’ve stuck a nine-volt battery on your tongue! The Chinese have a word for this; they call it ma la, which literally means “numbing” and “spicy.”
  3. Up until the sixteenth century, Sichuan peppers had been the primary “spicy”ingredient in Asian cuisine. This changed after Christopher Columbus introduced the chili pepper to the Old World. Hot chili peppers and peppercorns spread rapidly across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and suddenly, there was a new hot spice in town.
  4. Sichuan pepper was actually banned in the United States the same year LSD was made
    Fresh green peppercorns
    Fresh green Sichuan peppers
    illegal. While the pepper didn’t have quite the reputation LSD had, the FDA banned imports of Sichuan peppers out of fears that it would infect American citrus groves with a rare citrus canker disease. The ban was lifted in 2005, and you can now find Sichuan peppers in markets across the country.
  5. The berries are good for more than just cooking. Some of the medicinal attributes of the berries include pain relief, weight loss, food retention, and especially toothache suppression. The North American prickly ash is known as the ‘Toothache Tree’ because the powdered bark was used as a toothache remedy and to heal wounds.

Want to try out the tongue-numbing berry yourself? Click here for recipes.

Learn more about the spice!

Spice Profile: Peppercorns by Dave DeWitt
The Tongue-Numbing "Flower Pepper" of Sichuan Province by Kimberly Dukes
Three Things You Didn't Know About Sichuan Peppers by Darren Lim

Burglar Blaster
The Burglar Blaster security system

Ever wish you had a more appropriate way than an ADT Home Security system to safeguard your hot sauce collection? Imagine if a burglar snuck into your house, tripped the alarm system, and was sprayed with a fiery blast of pepper spray? Now that’s poetic justice. The Burglar Blaster is a “self contained electronic pepper spray anti-burglary system” that’s easy to install. The unit is housed in a cast aluminum/alloy case and lasts up to four years on a set of batteries. That means that even if the power goes out on your block, your hot sauce collection—along with everything else in your house—is protected. Pretty cool, right?

Just be careful that you don’t trip the Burglar Blaster yourself because the infrared alarm only takes 40 seconds to blast anyone and anything within a 2,000-foot radius with a strong dose of Oleoresin Capsicum, a chemical compound that causes nausea and irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness. Not to mention, you’ll have to clean house pretty well if the Burglar Blaster does go off, as aerosol capsaicin won’t just disperse into thin air.

Using pepper spray to defend your shrine to all things spicy? That’s hot. Blasting yourself and your treasured belongings with a fine mist of capsaicin? That’s not.

The Pepper EaterSometimes it’s easy to forget that producing fiery foods is more than just a passion – in many parts of the world, chile production and processing is a necessity. Dried red pepper is the one of the most widely consumed spices in the world, eaten daily by one-quarter of the world’s population. Chile peppers are one of the oldest domesticated crops. Civilizations in South America grew chile peppers for food and medicinal purposes, and after peppers were introduced to other parts of the globe more than 500 years ago, chiles became important in developing nations for their economic value. Ethiopia alone consumes 466 million kilograms of pepper annually, with an estimated 400,000 women in Ethiopia processing peppers for income.Women Processing Peppers

Inspired by stories of Ethiopian women bringing in income by processing peppers by hand, a team from the Hassno Plattner Design Institute at Stanford University developed the Pepper Eater—an affordable hand-cranked pepper grinder. Pepper processing is exhausting work that turns fresh peppers into higher-value products: dried flakes, seeds, and powder. The procedure can cause severe irritation in the skin, eyes, and noses from exposure to pepper oil containing capsaicin, pepper dust in the air can cause respiratory issues. The Pepper Eater produces dried pepper flakes about 2-4 times faster than current manual methods while greatly reducing the health risks associated with processing chiles.

The design team included Samuel Hamner, Megan Kerins, Siobhan Nolan, and Scott Sadlon, a group of Stanford Engineering and Business grad students. After successfully conducting an on-the-ground feasibility study in September 2009, Sam and Scott are continuing as an independent design and strategy team with the goal of implementing the Pepper Eater in Ethiopia and other developing markets. Most recently, they have partnered with Compatible Technology International and have been featured in National Geographic Magazine to help them achieve their goal and gain exposure for the project.

Interested in learning more about the project, or donating? Visit: www.thepeppereater.org.

Sources & images for this article provided by:



Cabbage Field Near Las CrucesWe hear so much about New Mexico chiles that we tend to forget that many other crops are grown in our state.  The number one ag crop is alfalfa and the number one food crop, in value, is pecans, and chiles are second now.  But we also grow lots of fresh market crops like, believe it or not, cabbage, seen at left.  Farmers in New Mexico also grow lots of onions and peanuts.

On a recent trip to Las Cruces, I encountered the Cotton Field Near Salemthree fields in this post from Arrey south to Las Cruces.  A very important non-food crop in New Mexico is cotton, and the brilliant white bolls really stand out, as you can see in the next pic, at right.

That said, we are most famous for chile peppers and rightly so.  The green chile harvest is mostly over now, and Red Chile Field, Arrey, New Mexicogrowers are letting the pods turn red and they partially dry on the plant.  These pods can be machine-harvested, unlike the green pods, which are hand-picked because they are more fragile. The large field at left, near Arrey, will be harvested soon and the pods placed in tunnel dryers to complete the process.  Then the pods will be bagged and sold, or ground into powder, or made into ristras for home decoration.

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