“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently made a trip to the State Farmer’s Market to spend my hard earned writing cash and to buy the ingredients for my summer salsa project. We drove to the south side of the city, pulled our van up to stall after stall, buying first a big box of Roma tomatoes, a large basket of peaches (not salsa related) a big bag of onions and a bunch of green chiles.
The chiles made the most unfamiliar purchase. I am not a hot eater. When I buy salsa in the grocery store, I decidedly go for the jars with “mild” printed in clear letters. So when it comes to buying anything in the pepper or chile family – beyond bell peppers – I am in new territory.
As I arrived at the stall to buy the chiles, I asked the man there what I needed to use. I diligently showed him my recipe, and also indicated that I had small children and wanted to steer clear of anything too hot. He smiled kindly, indicated that he understood and pointed to what I needed. I said my recipe indicated the need for four cups. He gathered a large number of chiles between his hands, put it in a bag and handed it to me. He seemed nice.
On my way home, I bought the rest of the supplies I needed: additional pint jars, some garlic and gloves for handling the chiles. My recipe and instruction book – that I mentioned in my last post – is So Easy to Preserve, offered by the Cooperative Extension of The University of Georgia. The book encouraged me to use gloves when handling the chiles. I needed no encouragement.
The chiles were among the first thing I prepared, leaving my kind husband to blanch and peel the tomatoes. I blistered the chiles in the oven according to instruction, then began to peel them. They did not peel easily. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t blister them correctly, or if maybe it was supposed to be that hard, but the skin did not come off well. I would often lose a significant amount of the pepper itself when I tried. Add to this the fact that it was taking an insanely long amount of time. Most of all, the gloves got in the way. It was almost impossible to peel off the minute pieces of chile skin with the gloves on.
So I took them off.
It didn’t seem like a big deal. So Easy To Preserve had instructions for just such a possibility. It simply said that if I didn’t wear gloves, to then be sure to wash my hands carefully before touching my eyes or face. No problem.
In the end, I had about one cup worth of the green chiles, not the four cups that the recipe called for. I knew I had to keep the amounts the same for canning, but fortunately, I had enough bell peppers, which can substitute to make up the right quantity. As I came to the last few chiles, my hands were beginning to get hot. But when I was done, I washed them thoroughly. No problem, right?
Ha! My hands didn’t get any cooler, in fact they began to scorch. Then they burned for hours. Cutting acidic tomatoes didn’t help. The onions also pleasantly made my eyes smart and water. To top it all off, if I had to work over the open stove, the steam from the pots turned my hands to fire!
When I got a break, I Googled something like “cut chiles hands stop hurting” (and typing wasn’t easy, believe me!) I found websites with suggestions, the main one being “wear gloves.” Thanks. I tried soaking my hands in a combination of milk and ice. I put frozen things in my oven mitts. When none of this worked for very long, I turned to drinking. (If you’re a member of my church, you should probably skip to the end now.) The experience brought to mind a number of words, four-letter and otherwise, that I wouldn’t want to use within the confines of anyplace holy.
Just after midnight the canning process was complete. My milk solution and I lay down to watch TV for a while. Eventually, my skin calmed enough to let me go to sleep.
I have gained a lot from this experience. I can now consider a life of crime since I probably have no fingerprints. While I will never stop going to farmers’ markets, I might stick to stores where things are carefully labeled if I’m buying something that might do damage. I learned, too, that like many occasions in life, things hurt more when I think about them.
I have also learned that interactions between human beings can be very tricky things. The kind man who sold us the chiles also allowed my daughter the orange that had caught her eye. When I asked him for a price, he just smiled and waved me away. In giving my daughter an orange and me an evening of agony, I hardly believe he meant us harm. Somehow, we just didn’t communicate.
We can’t dwell on the pain. We can’t ignore it either. We have to grieve. We have to pay attention. We have to actively participate in our healing. Then we have to keep going; march ahead with the tasks at hand until suddenly we notice that the sting isn’t quite so bad as it once was.
I have since done a little more Googling to find out exactly what kind of pepper I used. They were mostly green with some red in them which, from the pictures, could be either serranos or arbol chiles. While I don’t think that they were the mild green chiles prescribed, it is always possible that they were and that I am just exceptionally sensitive. Regardless, it was a learning experience. Some of us get our education the hard way.
I’ve sampled the salsa. It is pretty good, but has a heck of a bite. I can’t imagine what it would have tasted like if I had used the full four cups of the little green offenders. I think I can still use these jars of salsa for Christmas presents. Of course, they should probably be carefully labeled . . .
Here is a recipe from the Bass Family and Friends Cookbook that is in keeping with the theme of the day.
1 can whole kernel corn 1 large onion, minced
1 can Ro-tel, drain well 1 can ch. green chilies
1 bell pepper, minced, (opt.) flour tortillas
1 or more jalapenos; seeded, minced cheddar cheese
Mix all of the above, except the cheese and tortillas. Place ¼-⅓ cup of veggies on a flour tortilla. Sprinkle with 2 T. cheddar. Top with another tortilla. Press down. Repeat. Bake until the tortillas are golden. I often take a pancake turner and flip them to insure even baking. Cut with a pizza wheel and serve hot. – Diane Taylor