Dowry Chili

Not everyone is enamored of capsaicin as my wife. In case that chemical name is unfamiliar to you, it’s the substance that makes chili peppers spicy, or “hot “as some people say. My wife, Sallie, says she grew up eating food cooked by her father whose taste buds were so dulled from smoking pipes and cigars that he had to add extra jalapeño to the food so it would have some taste. Be that as it may, she has been on a quest all of her adult life for that special tang known in these spanglish parts as “picosito” or spiciness. Our daughter even went to the extreme of having a local Thai restaurant produce five star Thai just to try to get a reaction out of her mother. This was a soup of primarily Thai peppers, with very little else. The Navy could have used it to peel gray paint off bulkheads. She finally admitted, grudgingly, that she had to add extra rice to tone it down.

Our friend Carl, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and running a chuckwagon catering business heard of Sallie’s “need for the seed,” or her quest for the perfect red chili powder. Since we had run out of our old favorite known as Taos Lightning, she just hadn’t found a chili powder with enough kick. So Carl sent us a little baggie of rich, red, ground, dried, New Mexico chili. He said he’d discovered the source from a man who lived out East of Española up the Chimayo Valley who grew dowery chili’s. These are chilies grown from seeds given to young girl at her wedding; usually by her father from his private supply. The bloodlines of these chilies probably rival pedigrees of thoroughbred horses. In fact, being a Native American specialty, these “bloodlines” may even be millenia old.

Chili's ready for chopping on the chuck wagon table with a small skillet.

Mr. Martinez, as he’s called by his intimate circles of you “users,” provides us with a rich red powder that comes in little plastic bags with labels like “XXXX,” “a little warm” or “not for use by minors!” He explains that one of his strains requires the people who grind for him to to open all the windows and wear masks. But our true favorite is the one he has to grind by himself. That one the people who work for him refuse to grind! That one is the mother of all chili powders, Viva Martinez!

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