few years ago, I developed what has become known by a circle of
friends as the wimpy jalapeno theory.
basic idea began simply enough… more and more menus were adding
dishes that carried a spice warning. Icons and spicy wording and
hot hot hot. The reality though, as it seemed to me and many of
those I discussed it with, was that many of these spicy dishes
weren’t all that spicy.
I didn’t know better, I would develop some conspiracy theory about
it. One where spicy was used as a description to create some sort
of trend or fad or feeling of accomplishment. Kind of like defeating
a game played at the simplest of levels, but not letting those
that completed it know they were being carried along for the ride.
Back to my jalapeno theory…
were held about the meaning of spicy on these menus. It was being
used almost exclusively to convey a warning about heat. Many of
us chuckled about it, since the jalapeno-flavored this and habanero-infused
that often lacked jalapeno and habanero kicks of heat. For those
of us keeping track, the sweet and spicy chili sauces would be
sweet with perhaps a hint of spice.
good way of summarizing this idea would be to think of it as spicy
for the mass market. It was as if the label was added not because
the food actually had lots of spice and heat, but rather the name
offered a bit of exotic danger to it that added to the thrill
of ordering it.
wimpy jalapeno theory expanded from there in many ways. For one,
I mentioned that it seemed like the peppers and produce I was
buying didn’t seem to be as strong, and some people agreed.
ten years ago, a potential answer came about. I read an article
that talked about farming and produce. It mentioned that some
ways of improving overall growth, specifically increasing the
speed of getting things to harvest (while in some cases also producing
larger fruits and vegetables), were actually resulting in produce
that had fewer nutrients. The faster growth had removed the full
development of nutrition (as an easily explanation). This article,
in many ways and from a different perspective, lent a bit of support
to my “the jalapenos aren’t as strong” stance.
exception to the rule? Yup. Our garden.
there we had plenty of success with jalapenos and several other
pepper varieties. And these have almost always, garden after garden,
come along with solid flavors and a good touch of jalapeno-level
mention all of this because I want to talk to you about butternut
know. Doesn’t seem to make sense. I have hopes, so stay with me.)
always heard about cross-pollination and hybrids and so on when
it comes to gardens. But, for the most part, I would say a naïve
approach to gardening and a somewhat inexperienced ability to
really detect flavors crossing over from plant to plant would
place me squarely in the couldn’t-tell-you group when it comes
to mixing and matching and hybriding things in my garden.
I have noticed the flavors in my peppers, tomatoes, eggplants
and more seem to be better than what I’m getting in the store.
Same for the parsley, basil and other assorted efforts. But I
have zero clue if the green peppers have picked up some traces
of the jalapeno peppers. And I have even less of a clue as to
whether the tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchinis have gained something
from the bees and wind and such moving things around in our garden.
the first time, we attempted to plant butternut squash.
the very first thing I need to mention about that would reflect
how no one told me what was coming as a result. Squash. Simple.
Like the summer squash and zucchini and similar plants. Right?
Kind of leafy and circular (if you will) with how they’ll spread,
read the directions but possibly plant in a mound, and so on.
And the answer is… not really. Not at all.
things went everywhere, shooting around like uncontrolled cucumber
vines. Up and over and into raised beds. Along and around and
inside and outside the garden fence. In between and through and
back again other plants. We’ve got butternut squash all over the
mid-August I noticed a couple of summer squash that looked fine
overall, but definitely different. The skin seemed firmer. The
color was a bit darker, almost as if a touch of orange had been
mixed in with the yellow. And then I picked a couple. And the
inside was pretty much what you might expect to find if I told
you a summer squash exterior and butternut squash interior.
certainly not an intentional cross-pollination or similar effort,
Terry and I arrived at the conclusion that we had grown hybrid
butternut summer squash.
butternut summer squash… stronger jalapenos… or, perhaps, just
the quality gained from absolute fresh from the vine vegetables
served in your kitchen. The limits are strictly up to you.
week, we took a trip to visit with the parents. A few eggplants
and some traditional butternut squash were packed, with plans
of a homecooked meal and some experiments placed on our agenda.
But a bit of this ingredient and a bit of that conversation and
suddenly a side dish of butternut squash with apples replaces
plans for finding a good soup recipe.
and I have a joke about green beans, which is that you can usually
grow them on a rock. Not far from the truth. The reality is, many
items in a garden will grow quite well with even the lightest
of touches after the planting is done. (And the planting might
not have to be the most detailed and planned of events to generate
success.) Still, it never hurts to do the work. The watering…
the weeding… the occasional prod. Occasionally, even a novice
can learn a few things (and then harvest the rewards).