My Hot and Spicy Adventures, or She’s On Fire!

Jalapeños, Serranos, Trinidad Scorpion peppers, Chocolate Habañeros, Pequìn, Chiltepin, Negros Chiles De Arbol, and an unknown tree variety are one day's harvest in my Garden Of Spicy Delights
Jalapeños, Serranos, Trinidad Scorpion peppers, Chocolate Habañeros, Pequìn, Chiltepin, Negros Chiles De Arbol, and an unknown tree variety are one day’s harvest in my Garden Of Spicy Delights


Not a sweet tooth, a HEAT TOOTH!

I love hot peppers.

I have been honing my tolerance for heat for a few years now, and at this point I can take a bite out of a habañero and not pass out or vomit. It hurts, and I have to breathe deeply as my eyes water and my mouth and lips burn, but I can do it, and I have to admit – I love the burn as much as I love the flavor!

I started with the gentle jalapeño. A few years ago, even those little palate ticklers were too much for me. Back then I could barely eat Sriracha. Now, Sriracha is what I use on my fries instead of ketchup. I don’t feel the slightest tingle. But I digress. The jalapeño was my teacher – gentle, but firm. Kind, but strict. Spicy – at first very spicy, but not so much that I would give up. My mouth would burn, but the jolt I got wasn’t so bad that I wouldn’t try again. I added them to everything – chopped them up in my scrambled eggs, slivered them into soups, sliced them onto stir frys, until I the fiery tongue stopped showing up, and I new I needed to up the ante.

Serranos were next. Then the delicious Pequins, my favorite hot sauce peppers. After that, I had to admit that I was a pepper masochist – I was looking for a pepper that could basically hurt me. I had been singed by habañero salsa in the Yucatan, but that was nothing compared to what I had in store. Chiltepin peppers are surprisingly potent for their size, and those took me a long time to master. The entire time I was experimenting with pepper tolerance I was nursing a bottle of habañero salsa I had brought with me from the Yucatan, mixed with vinegar and carrots – I thought it was hot, but once the Chiltepin peppers were behind me I could basically drink that stuff – it was practically a smoothie. It was then I started making my own version of the classic Yucatecan relish of red onion, habañeros, citrus juice, and vinegar, which was so incredibly hot  that the top of my head would fly off every time I put some on a taco. But I kept at it. By the time I tried a Bhut Jolokia, the DREAD GHOST PEPPER, I was such a Macho Pepper Goddess I barely noticed that it was hotter than a habañero. After that, I thought I had all the peppers licked – nothing could kick my heat-loving ass.


Up steps  THE CAROLINA REAPER.  Hotter than a Ghost Pepper. Hotter than a Scorpion Pepper. The Carolina Reaper clocks in at 1,400,000 Scoville Units – a Bhut Jolokia has a mere 850,000. To put that into perspective, a Jalapeño measures 2,500 Scoville Units, and Pepper Spray (yes – what the police use) is 2,000,000. So a Carolina Reaper is basically a weapon.

One morning I shaved off a little bit of the pepper for my breakfast scramble – it was HOT – but it didn’t kill me, so I thought what the hell, I’m going to put one entire Carolina Reaper Pepper into a big batch of coleslaw for the BBQ I was headed to.

I will never do anything that hostile ever again. I thought I was spicing things up! The other guests where weeping, moaning, demanding a sign with a skull and crossbones be put in front of the dish to warn anyone who may think it was an innocent slaw that it was NSFE (Not Safe For Eating) I mean, even I, Ivette the Destroyer, Daughter of Kali, could barely eat it! But funny enough, by the end of the meal – the entire dish was gone. People wept, they screamed, they cursed my name – but they went back for more.

Such is the power of heat.

I am currently growing 13 varieties of hot peppers in my garden. I stopped growing tomatoes entirely – not as much fun, and much easier to get at markets than the most exotic of the hot peppers. Next year, if you are so inclined, try and grow something hotter than you are used to eating, and dare yourself to use it in your cooking! You will be surprised at how your palate will open up to the vibrancy of the pepper, and soon you will be picking up nuances and subtle flavors that previously went undetected under all that heat.

Do you have a heat tooth? Are you growing peppers? What are your favorites? What is your favorite recipe to use your peppers in? Come on Ranters, share your Hot Secrets! Your Steamy Recipes!

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Ivette Soler


Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!


  1. I dwell happily down at the lower end of Scoville, but I grow as an ornamental a pepper called Black Pearl. Not sure how it measures up to the rest of the pepper gang but a Cambodian friend, not known for a wimpy palate, tolerated a Black Pearl for roughly a nanosecond before jettisoning the offending morsel across the field and letting out a string of what surely were the choicest Cambodian expletives. I also caused a small child a great deal of misery when I used some lovely Black Pearls in his boutonniere at my niece’s wedding. The story is now firmly imbedded in our family oral history with me as the arch-villain. Who eats their boutonniere? A four year old ring bearer, that’s who.

    • I grow the Black Pearls too Joe Schmitt! They are pretty yummy! I think they are about as hot as a serrano – which is fairly hot! And what a GREAT idea to use them in boutonnieres , although maybe not for a little kid (tee hee!) One of the reasons I love growing the peppers is for their beauty – they are as good as flowers to be – but with a kick! Thanks for your comment, as usual! You always add something fun to the mix!

  2. I don’t do it for the heat, also being a denizen of lower Scoville, but you are right on about this: Any farmers’ market will have piles of heirloom tomatoes, but for pepper variety, you’ve got to grow your own. They are so easy to preserve, too. This year, I am growing lipstick (just a small bell), shisitos (getting more popular in stores), an Italian frying pepper (a good all purpose one), and Tunisian baklouti (for making harissa).
    I was a pepper victim as a child as well, when an uncle dared me to take a bite. Lots of cornbread and ice cream later, it still burned!

    • Val, even though you are from Lower Scoville, it sounds like you are growing some great peppers! I love love love shishitos, but have stopped growing so many since I can get them pretty easily at my local Trader Joes. A good Italian pepper is what I lack! I think I need to throw in some Calabrian peppers next year – that would round me out! Oh and you make your own harissa! Now there’s a great idea! I need to look up some recipes so I can do the same!

  3. Joe’s story above reminds me of the first year I grew Tabasco peppers. I was slicing them up with my 1 year old sitting in a high chair near me. He let me know he wanted more Cheerios so I absent-mindedly threw a handful on his tray. I could not figure out what was making him cry until my fingers started burning. Poor guy. To this day he is a picky eater and hesitant to try anything new and I always wonder if that experience contributed.

    • Ouch! Poor little tiger! Spicy cheerios are not the thing to make a little one gurgle with glee… oops! I’d hope he would have turned out to be a heat seeker like me, but who knows? There is still time. I only recently developed my passion for chili peppers. Maybe he will too! Thanks for the story – that was great (not for your boy though! Yikes!

  4. Love the hot peppers for a bit of kick when cooking and on my eggs as hot sauce of course. Favorites this year: on the hot side: Red Habaneros, Maule’s Red Hot, Bulgarian Carrot Chile, Golden Cayenne and Ring of Fire Cayenne. On the milder side: Criolla Sella and Trinidad Spice. I make vinegar hot sauces and also dry them in my dehydrator for the best chile flakes and powders ever. Yum.

    • Maule’s Red Hot! That sounds interesting! I want to grow them all. I dehydrate most of my hotter ones so I can have a steady supply of flakes and powders when the season is over – I also make a variety of chili oils and chili / garlic pastes. It is turning into a real passion. Once you go spicy, I don’t think you can turn back! (unless your stomach lining tells you otherwise – I’m crossing my fingers that mine stays adventurous!)

  5. I grew up on white bread, mashed potatoes, and tapioca pudding, so my middle American upbringing did not prepare me for peppers. Still, I wanted to escape my boring childhood, and I have built up to mild salsa and the occasional Anaheim.

    I had a Pakistani roommate in college and he prepared some dish consisting of rice and stir-fried veggies – and a small dish on the side, containing an ominously unassuming sauce. “We would normally just cook everything with that included, but for you Americans I have set it aside. Use as you will.” I had a big plate of rice n’ veggies – he cooked a lot – and tried a small teaspoon added to my dish. I ate it all, but it was a test of pain tolerance, to be sure. I think it was good, but it was hard to tell.

    For all adventurers out there, have a cold milk or cold beer on hand; both are more effective than mere water.

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