It’s the dead of winter in New England. You must have strategies for keeping warm.
Some strategies work better than others.
For instance: Do you focus on warming yourself from the outside in, or the inside out?
Stacking firewood, as one example, warms you from the inside out. But it’s also possible to achieve inside-out warming without so much heavy lifting. Where I come from, in the desert of central Arizona, people warm themselves from the inside out by ingesting spicy foods. Why people who live in the hottest place on earth ever wanted to eat the hottest foods on earth, I don’t know. Maybe in the old days, hot food is all they had available. In any case, you can get truly hot food in Arizona.
On the other hand, to find truly hot food on the North Shore of Massachusetts is a major challenge.
Things labeled “hot” here … ain’t.
To eat something “hot” isn’t about some mild twinge, some moment of puzzlement, some delicate flicker of alarm on your tongue. If you call it “hot,” it should make your face sweat. It should, within 60 seconds, make you look like you’ve been crying for an hour. You should need an icy margarita immediately, just for survival.
Oh, I know you can buy a habanero pepper as an ingredient for your own cooking, or order “Thin & Spicy Dill Pickle Slices” from Ipswich-based Table Manners (the pickles are not really thin, but they are delightfully spicy). Or you can go to Market Basket and get commercially manufactured “hot” stuff from out of state.
But who’s making healthy, local, homemade hot stuff for us?
Local foods labeled “hot”? Harrumph. I have been suckered repeatedly.
It’s basically a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen: North Shore farm stands calling stuff “hot” when really they’re not.
Last week I visited Northern Lights, our Ipswich farm stand on High Street. This place is a treasure: an enormous variety of wonderful stuff, including numerous Amish farm products. They have seasonal vegetables, fruits, bakery, eggs, honey and syrup, flowers and plants, even Christmas trees when the time comes. They also offer quite a line of “Annie’s Kitchen” products in jars. I bought everything I could find under the label “hot” — Hot Tomato Relish, Hot Pickled Garlic, Hot Pepper Cabbage — plus Habanero Dill Blast Pickles.
All very, very tasty. I gobbled the garlic and the cabbage like candy. The relish was perfect on my turkey pita wrap for breakfast this morning. The pickles made a delightful snack.
I think the pickles, after I swallowed, may have given off the faint echo of something vaguely like heat. And certainly I saw a few lame pepper flakes sloshing around in the bottoms of some of the jars. But a pepper flake doth not a bonfire make.
With Marini and Russell’s farm stands closed for the winter, and Appleton offering only online-carryout, I had no choice but to cross the Ipswich town line and look for heat elsewhere.
I found myself in Newbury, at Tendercrop Farms.
On a rack to your left as you enter, they offer Hot Corn Salsa, Hot Black Bean Salsa, and Hot Slow Roasted Garlic Salsa — plus something they call Extremely Hot Salsa, without even a nod to its ingredients.
The hot corn salsa was wonderful — but not hot. The garlic and black bean salsas were delicious — but not hot.
Then I tried the mysteriously named Extremely Hot Salsa.
This stuff burned my tongue, charred the roof of my mouth, and melted the spoon. It scorched my throat going down, and enflamed my stomach. I had to mop my eyebrows, and douse my mouth-fire with seltzer. You know those cartoons where fire comes blasting out of someone’s mouth and ears?
Well, no, this isn’t how it was. Not exactly. But the “Extremely Hot” salsa was hotter than the other stuff, by far.
I’m going back for more!
And when I win damages for false advertising, I’m gonna serve this stuff at the party.
Doug Brendel lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he studies fire-eating and other circus tricks. Enter his weird world via Doug Brendel.com.