|The Ghost Rises|
There's something mighty special taking place in one corner of the North Natomas heirloom tomato farm extravaganza belonging to yours truly -- and the wife that is Venus. Plants are just popping out all over in anticipating of the onset of spring -- and that includes the Bird 2014 heirloom tomato and pepper summer garden.
The most interesting item to emerge this morning? That would be it -- pictured above right. That, my fine gardening friends, represents a first for the Birdhouse. It is truly something special. It's called the Ghost Pepper -- and it's become a somewhat special and legendary ingredient in the moderately-famous and always in demand Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa.
|Ghost Pepper Seeds|
The Ghost pepper -- my friends -- is a hands down winner. But I don't recommend that you sample one fresh from the garden. That might cause a bit of indigestive pain -- if you get my drift.
You see -- the Ghost Pepper -- also known as Bhut Jolokia -- is a rather warm pepper. I say this facetiously. The Ghost Pepper was once know as the hottest pepper on the planet, bar none. It's since been surpassed by others -- but that Scoville unit rating of one million is still nothing to be laughed at. The Ghost Pepper produces a taste that is so stinging hot, that it rates just a notch below standard police-grade pepper spray.
|Bird 2014 Summer Garden under Shop Lights|
None of this matters to the wife that is Venus. Once she discovered my plans to grow the Bhut Jolokia in the Bird Back 40, it's been "GAME ON." You see, the correct pronunciation of this pepper might be something akin to "Boot Holoka," but when it comes to the Bhut Jolokia the wife that is Venus suddenly reverts to the tender age of ten.
Which means I become the "Bhut" of all jokes. Bhut Jolokia has suddenly become my second name. Or, if I'm doing something to annoy her (which is quite often), I am nothing more than a "Bhut Jolokia."
|Pick a Peck of Peppers|
We were warned -- before planting our pepper and tomato seeds two weekends ago -- that the Ghost Pepper could take a rather long time to germinate and emerge from the soil. Germination can sometimes take up to a month. But this morning -- barely two weeks after planting -- the first Ghost Pepper seedling emerged. I'm sure it will be followed by others.
The emergence of the Bhut Jolokia actually beat out a few other pepper varieties -- which concerns me a tad. We didn't buy any pepper seeds this year -- other than the Bhut Jolokia of course -- because the gardening seed box (a repurposed box that once held a pair of size 13 sneakers) is jammed with pepper seed purchases made in previous years. Planting pepper seeds that are more than two or three years old is akin to rolling a pair of dice. Sometimes it comes up sixes. And sometimes it's snake eyes -- as in no germination at all.
|Venus Plants Tomato Seeds|
The Ghost Pepper has another thing going for it. Unlike our previous experience with other hot peppers -- the Bhut Jolokia does not lose its mega-byte of hotness after cooking for a solid hour or processing in a pressure canner for 30 minutes. We experimented with this pepper quite a bit last year, thanks to the generous donations of South Natomas gardener Nels Christensen.
The last experiment turned out to be the best: Four Ghost Peppers in a batch of salsa that resulted in eleven one-pint jars. Named "Ghost to the Post" in honor of former Oakland Raiders tight end Dave Casper (and the Ghost Pepper, of course), these eleven jars resulted in the best salsa we've ever created in the Bird family kitchen. Finally, after years of trial and many errors, we've produced something with a real kick.
|Grow! Grow! Grow!|
I look forward to this summer when we can hopefully combine ripened, red hot Ghost Peppers with the fine tomato selections offered by Brad Gates and his Wild Boar Farms. Peppers -- especially hot peppers -- are an essential ingredient in not just salsa -- but the many brands of tomato sauce that we create and can for winter use. Why confine yourself to a store purchase of tomato sauce mixed with one kind of pepper and one kind of basil -- when you can have six?
And so my friends, while I do recommend the Bhut Jolokia for your backyard pleasure, I also preach caution. Because this pepper has a real bite and kick to it. Treat it with the respect and care it deserves. Because if you're not careful, the Ghost Pepper just might kick you square in the Bhut.