José’s Cousin’s Chilies

Being a life-long obsessive omnivore with a penchant for unusual tastes, it isn’t often anymore that I come across a new edible. But at the end of last summer one of the Mexicans on the block offered to show me a special chili pepper plant he was growing and it turned out to be unlike anything I’d ever encountered.

José told me he got the seeds from his cousin, who lives in the Mexican state of Michoacán. It was a beautiful plant, over six feet tall with long upright narrow stems and slender leaves, like a Serrano plant on steroids. The fruits were rich green like a Jalapeño but differently shaped; an inch and a half to two inches long, a full inch across the base and tapered to a point, similar in appearance to a small Fresno. Allowed to ripen and dry, they take on a brilliant red with an oily luster that nature generally reserves as a warning of serious danger:

jose's cousin's chilies

Could be a rare variety but I am thinking they are a new cross of some sort, perhaps between Serrano – because of the architecture of the plant – and Red Habanero.

As I admired the plant, a small crowd of his relatives and friends had quietly gathered. When he offered me a taste and the crowd murmured, it became clear that the idea behind inviting me over was to see if this gringo could deal with the fire. I am loath to back down from a challenge, especially one I think I can win, so I said sure. Damn if they didn’t start to place bets on whether I could swallow it down or would spit it out.

I grew up eating hot chilies of all sorts. Many neighbors were Mexican and raised Jalapeños and Habaneros which we children stole and dared each other to eat. Other neighbors were Portuguese and the old men raised some sort of small slender African pepper they would carefully tend in dry soil and full sun, trying to outdo their relatives and friends as to who could raise the hottest, and I ate those too while the old men laughed. I love Thai food, and am not in the least intimidated by capsaicin.

Still, these little peppers were shockingly impressive, fiercer than even a Habanero. The burn is slow to come on, then intensifies and explodes like a skyrocket and sustains for what, in a fine display of Einsteinian Local Relativity, seems like a very long time. The eyes water, the nose runs, the lips first go numb and then when feeling returns you wish it hadn’t, the throat constricts and your body refuses to breath. I got it all down, with help from several swallows of beer from a bottle that I grabbed out of the hand of the nearest onlooker, earning me laughing backslaps from the winners and grudging handshakes from the losers. When I caught my breath the first thing I did was ask for a cut of the winnings which brought laughter all around, and now instead of just a neighbor I am respected as acceptably macho even if just a gringo. No pain, no gain.

I asked for several ripe pods late last fall and saved them to dry, and a few weeks ago planted some seeds. (Yes, I wore goggles while cutting open the pod. A bit in the eye would be unbearable.) They have sprouted and hopefully will come true, so I can take my turn passing them out to unsuspecting neighbors and friends.

planting jose's chilies

About the title of this post; when I was able to speak in full sentences I again asked my neighbor what kind of chilies these were. He replied in halting English, “My cousin’s chilies.”

“Yes” I said, “But do they have a name?” He looked puzzled, then carefully replied “They are the chilies of my cousin.”

My Spanish is poor, but I managed to get out “¿El nombre de este chile?” – m/l, What is the name of this chili? Again he screwed up his face, then took on the look that adults sometimes use when speaking to child who is failing to comprehend, and very slowly and deliberately said:

“The name I call them is; ‘The. Chilies. Of. My. Cousin.’”

And so then, that is what they are: José’s Cousin’s Chilies.


8 responses to “José’s Cousin’s Chilies

  1. Pingback: José’s Cousin’s Chilies « Graham Firchlis has a blog

  2. The Other Sarah

    They sound tasty …

  3. blacksheepone

    One for seed, if they come true? They look like San Jose chilies from here …

    • grahamfirchlis

      A whole box full, if you want them.

      Don’t know what a “San Jose” chili is, and the Google doesn’t help. Are they killer hot, ’cause these are. Got a photo, or a reference?

  4. dry soil, full sun seems to be the way to go if you want to maximize your oil production.

    i did get some more cheese grits today, but today’s recipe is different from before, they were busy, and i was in a hurry, so i didn’t ask about the ingredients. this one had jalapenos in it though. many more jalapenos than i was expecting. [yes, i am a wimp]

    • grahamfirchlis

      No, “wimp” isn’t applicable.

      There are lots of genetic variants in taste bud perceptions; how people experience cilantro and the various cruciferous vegetables are famously so. Capsaicin is likely one of those too, and what I might experience as mild could be unbearable to you. Both are equally valid experiences.

  5. The Other Sarah

    Oh, hipparchia, I’m so sorry ….

    “you can’t spoil kasha with butter,” the Russians say, and it’s usually interpreted to mean that “you can’t spoil something good by putting something else good in” — but jalapeno pepper in grits is an exception.

    Let me present you with a cheese grits recipe:

    3 cups cold cooked grits
    1 beaten egg
    1 cup milk (or half-and-half)
    1/3 tsp salt
    1 tsp roasted garlic, crushed to paste
    1 tsp finely minced onion
    1/3 cup butter
    2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, finely shreddeed

    Heat oven to 350F. Butter an 8×8 baking dish.

    In a heavy saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat.
    Add garlic and onion and cook 2-3 minutes or until onion turns translucent.
    Meanwhile, beat milk and egg together.
    Once onions are clear, add grits to pan; stir in egg and milk, stirring constantly, and heat through.
    Beat in cheese then pour mixture into baking pan and bake 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve warm.

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