The Pondering Grapefruit
a blog of moments
In our backyard, my parents grow several pots of Thai pepper plants. Every morning, my dad spends fifteen minutes watering them, and occasionally he will place more fertilizer at their bases. I have always admired his consistency; surely if the pepper plants were under my care they would not be as large and fruitful.
We have had these plants for several years now, and every autumn the plants produce hundreds of beautiful, red, hot peppers that we eat with every meal. When I was in college, I would come home on holiday weekends and help to harvest them. We would have bowls and bunches of bags filled to the brim with the bright red fruits, which we would then store in the freezer.
Just today, I picked another round of peppers. Though it is November in Atlanta, it is still 80 degrees outside, and the plants grow strong. This is the second time this year that I have plucked off peppers, and there are still hundreds more green peppers on the branches waiting to ripen.
I have always enjoyed harvesting the peppers. For about an hour or an hour and a half, I sit outside with nothing but a bowl, a pair of scissors, and my phone playing music. As I try to be mindful with everything, I again aim to be mindful with this harvest, paying attention to the shape of each pepper, its colors, whether it is blunt or sharp at the tips, or if it grows straight or curved. It always amazes me how many variations of peppers exist within a single plant. Furthermore, I love paying attention to the shape of the leaves, which are thin and tapered just like the fruit; as well as the delicate tiny flowers whose petals also resemble the shape of the fruit. And I think to myself, as Billie Holiday sings to me and the wind and sun kiss my cheek, that this is quite a beautiful plant.
Spice is a pillar of Vietnamese cuisine, and these peppers often make their way into every meal. Growing up, I often watched in amazement as my parents took whole bites of these peppers, going through two, three peppers in one dinner. I could not understand their enjoyment, for if I even so much as licked a seed I would spend the next ten minutes crying.
But people change, and we change in ways that we would never expect. Soon after my first pepper harvest, I started eating peppers. Just one day when I sat down to eat lunch, I wanted to take out a pepper for myself and nibble on it between bites. It felt delicious. The sensation was the same, my tongue burned, my eyes teared up, but I liked it this time. It was as if I was going through another round of puberty, only this time, my body was ready to accept spice.
I started out biting just the tip of a pepper, but as my tolerance increased, I was able to eat an entire one. Last night, after two years of training, I was able to ingest two whole peppers.
Now that I am able to eat whole peppers, I feel, in a way, more initiated into adulthood. I also feel like I have something else in common with my parents, who always seemed to live such disparate existences. But now, at least we can have dinner and have set beside our plates a pepper each. I am, indeed, their offspring, and carry a set of DNA that sympathizes with spice.
What intrigues me is why I suddenly find the hot slap of spice so inviting. I imagine it's because life gets increasingly spicy as one gets older. The spice mirrors that, and feels good in its familiarity. Or perhaps life has become too consistent, with the daily rituals of work and responsibilities, that a dose of spiciness jolts one awake to the present moment. I imagine that both of these may be true, simply because of how spiciness works.
Spice is not a flavor, but a sensation. The active ingredient in any hot pepper is called capsaicin. We have receptors on our tongue, skin, and lips called VR1 receptors which were actually created to detect heat. Capsaicin, coincidentally, binds to those receptors, which explains why spiciness feels "hot." When spicy foods become unbearable, we reach for ice water because it feels like we are burning. And because spice boils down to a chemical binding a a receptor, the best way to get rid of spiciness is to drink dairy products, such as milk or yogurt, which can block the receptors. Water may temporarily relieve the hot sensation, but it won't do much to make it go away.
Spice, then, is essentially pain. That is perhaps why I like them so much. I began to eat peppers during a very rough time of my life. And having understood difficult times, failure, stress, and setbacks as an adult, I like foods that gesture towards those experiences and how I've grown from them. Compared to several years ago, my pain tolerance is much higher now.
I am grateful to have the pepper plants behind our house. After this last picking, we now have enough to last us for quite some time. My grandparents were farmers in Vietnam, and I imagine this is how they must have felt when they had a good season. With this plentiful harvest, I look forward to this upcoming year, and a lifetime, of good, healthy spice.
About this Blog
I have no idea how to describe what my writing is about. I just write. I post when I can, which can be weekly or monthly depending on where the universe is taking me. As for the Grapefruit, my Vietnamese nickname, Buoi, means grapefruit.