The Last Green Pepper Emperor

“[A]lso in a compound in Khabarovsk, in 1945, was the Last Manchu, Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty. He spent five years in Soviet captivity after his Japanese-backed pocket empire of Manchukuo collapsed with Japan’s surrender. The fallen emperor whiled away the days reading the Diamond Sutra and raising green peppers and tomatoes in the yard, while others among his shrunken entourage held séances in the bedrooms.”

Dominic Ziegler, “Black Dragon River. A Journey Down the Amur River at the Borderlands of Empires.” Penguin Press 2015: 8

This will probably turn out the one and only mention of chile peppers in that whole book, given how (comparatively, anyways) unpopular the chilli is supposed to be up north where its story takes place, but that only makes it all the more interesting.
After all, Northern China, and even Mongolia and Russia, aren’t the places one thinks of when thinking of peppers; the Manchu Qing aren’t exactly considered the biggest eaters of peppers – but then again, there is that mention of peppers, and growing tomatoes and peppers in the short Russian summers does seem to be a popular thing to do.

I know that from the Baltics as well; I heard of Pu Yi spending his later days as gardener – but that mix of crops is not particularly Chinese (or Manchu, for that matter)…

Quote from (and yes, that’s an affiliate link):

Scream Queens and Liquid Fire

I’m not sure I could recommend “Scream Queens“; you have to have a strong stomach to be able to handle… no, not actually the murders.

The language.

fatties and ethnics,” it’s clear the “ethnic spices” she’s thinking of include quite a dose of chile peppers:

Kappa is going to be filled with fatties and ethnics. The fatties will bring their big ol’ appetites and you know what those ethnics will bring with them? Weird spices from their home countries. That is a nuclear combination… The weird ethnic spices will send the fatties racing to the bathroom to blow liquid fire out of their huge, swollen bowels.

The statement is not just interesting as a culturally insensitive rant if ever there was one.
It is not just an example of how the slasher-murders in the series provide the comic relief to the ordinary cruelty of the people.

It is all the more telling as yet another, probably inadvertent, instance of the way “we” (Caucasian whites) tend to look down on spices from other places, at least as long as they aren’t the latest fad in exotic cooking that is mindlessly getting appropriated.

The denigration of hot spices, chile peppers above all, has a long tradition in all the European, and European-influenced, approaches to cooking that have come about since at least the Baroque.

Then, sugar overtook spices as the marker of upper-class ostentation in cooking, health (certainly of the nobility’s teeth) suffered, and the “low” status of hot aromas became a de rigeur affectation for anyone who wanted to, consciously or unconsciously, emulate the example of the upper crust.

Good thing this is changing, but such stereotypes and attitudes die hard. See “Scream Queens“.

Chile trouvée at Hermès…

Hermes Le Potager Capsicum

There I was, visiting the Festival des Métiers in Vienna, through which Hermès gives some insight into the work of its artisans… and for once, I found chile peppers not making an appearance in pop culture, but appearing on a luxury brand’s silk scarf design.

Hermès, you see, had a design in fall 2014 which playfully celebrated, well, vegetables: Le Potager Extraordinaire.

Of course the one design that immediately caught my eye was that one, and the part where I looked at it was the one illustrating Capsicum annuum 😉

Hermes Le Potager Capsicum

Good thing my collection of such finds is only photographic; that scarf would set me back a pretty penny… but it is cute.

(If you’re interested in further photos from this event, you can find some here.)

Mysteries of Laura – and the ‘Tasting’ of Chilli

Foto aus der Episode "Laura und die Tiefkühlleiche"

The 2014/15 season – of TV, not plant growing – featured superhot chile peppers not just in The Flash, but also in The Mysteries of Laura.

Season 1 Episode 11, “The Mystery of the Frozen Foodie,” found Laura Diamond, among other things, have her new cook boyfriend spice things up a little with his superhot Ghost Pepper…

Foto aus der Episode "Laura und die Tiefkühlleiche"
Photo from the episode, ©NBCUniversal

… and she promptly used the same chilli to uncover that the suspect food critic has lost her sense of taste.

Nice to see some recognition for the chilli, as I’m wont to say at this point right before criticizing the misunderstanding also being purported…

Peppers sure are fun and provide quite a bit of flavor alongside the pungency.

However, we speak of taste even as most of the complexity of an aroma does not actually arise from what we taste. Rather, it stems from what we smell retro-nasally, i.e., of scents being released in the mouth while chewing, and aerating, what we ingested and wafting up into the back of the nose.

Similarly, we may think of the pungency and the flavor of a chilli as being something we taste.

Technically (or actually, physiologically), however, we taste (and smell) the aroma, but feel the pungency. The former is accomplished by taste buds in the mouth and receptors for smells in the nose; the latter is ‘measured’ by the TRPV1 receptors (in the mouth) that react to high temperatures.

The problem that Laura Diamond would have had in real life, therefore: Her food critic would have had to not even be able to tell if a dish was warm or cold, not just to have lost a sense of taste, to be incapable of feeling the chile pepper’s pungency.


Detective Laura Diamond
Screenshot from the same episode (as it played on – Netflix for China, if you will…)

Second typical oopsie:

Her assistant would need something a bit fattier – milk is the standard recommendation – if that had really been ghost pepper…

It was fun to see chilli make a cameo, though, even if a detail was used wrongly. TV and movies tend to take quite a bit more suspension of disbelief than that, after all…