Some Like It Hot

By Kim Seeley

Some Like It Hot

I remember my Grandmother’s refrigerator with both amazement and amusement. Her refrigerator was a labyrinth of bowls, plates and Tupperware, teetering upon each other, and tottering towards disaster. While my grandmother was an excellent cook, her refrigerator organization left a lot to be desired. Usually one of my aunts would make some negative comment while attempting to find the milk or the butter or whatever, and Grandma would reluctantly throw things out.

My strongest memory of Grandma’s refrigerator originates from the shelves on the inside door. There, in all their multi-colored glory, were bottles of hot peppers, packed in their vinegary baths. Some were Grandma’s own garden peppers that she had pickled herself. Some were gifts from neighbors. A few more exotic types were store-bought. Alongside the hot peppers were a variety of hot, spicy sauces.

I remember her obvious delight when she opened one of those bottles and bit into a sizzling hot green, yellow or red pepper. “Yum,” she would declare. Her eyes would twinkle (of course, now I believe they could have been tearing up) and she would offer us grandchildren a bite. It only took one bite to learn that grandma’s peppers and sauces were really just for grandma’s taste buds and not ours.

I couldn’t understand her fondness for such extremely hot food, but I am sure Grandma would have been a big fan of today’s spicy foods. In fact, I bet she would have relished the emphasis on peppers and spices in today’s recipes, and would probably nod quite knowingly when reading of the health benefits of her beloved peppers and condiments.

A few years ago, I noticed one of my aunts had developed my grandma’s taste for the “heat.” When my aunt, my mom and I were eating lunch at a rather upscale restaurant, my aunt ordered the fried chicken. When the waiter brought it, my aunt asked for Texas Pete hot sauce. At the time, I had never seen anyone put Texas Pete on fried chicken, and I was a bit embarrassed by her request. Then I was mortified when my aunt dumped half the bottle of Texas Pete over her chicken and continued to douse it over each bite.

I have since learned that fried chicken and Texas Pete are quite a common combination, but I doubt that many folks use it quite as liberally as Auntie did that day. Then, a few years ago, I discovered my mother had Texas Pete in her refrigerator door. “Mom, when did you start using hot sauce?” I asked.

“Just a little while ago,” she replied. “I find that it gives my fried chicken and greens a bit of a kick.” I looked over the refrigerator shelves more closely, but I did not see any jars of hot peppers packed in vinegar. At least, not yet.

I have read some research that indicates our taste buds lose their sensitivity as we age, and that would explain my grandmother’s and my aunt’s partiality for the “heat.” Older people also use more salt and pepper, as their ability to taste becomes a little less sharp. I don’t think it is just a coincidence that my grandmother and my father-in-law both developed a taste for pizza in the last five to ten years of their lives, when they had scorned it for the first 60 to 70 years.

Of course, liking the “heat” is not simply a matter of age. My daughter and son-in-law regularly eat salsa and spicy foods that burn my mouth and throat and send me running for the milk. Another member of the family enjoys eating chicken wings that are so hot that he cries while munching away. He wipes the tears and keeps at it. So, I wonder, what will challenge their taste buds when they are 80 years of age? Will they become desensitized to the hot stuff? Who knows?

I realize that I am probably near the age that my Grandma was when I first noticed her jars of pickled peppers. So far, I show no sign of following in her footsteps, at least as far as the “heat” goes. My husband insists that it is just a matter of time before I follow my grandma, my aunt and my mom into the realm of spiciness. Perhaps I will pick up a jar of Texas Pete the next time I go to the grocery store, just to be on the safe side. And I have scouted out the hot peppers at a local gourmet shop, just in case that “heat” gene kicks in when I least expect it.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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3 Responses to “Some Like It Hot”

  1. Hey Girl, that is a super fine article. I can just see your G-ma sampling all that hotness! I am a long time enjoyer of Texas Pete and Tobasco Sauce! Fried chicken, scramble eggs, chicken pot pie, shoot, there isn’t anything that doesn’t have a little improvement with Texas Pete added to it! (I will stop at desserts, though!) Great article and most enjoyable, Lady!! Thanks!

  2. Kim, my husband and one grandson have the heat gene. Fire breathing dragons put off less heat than their mouths. Fun essay.

  3. Rose Ann says:

    One of my favorite Christmas presents is the hot pepper chocolate slabs, my son makes–essentially a Chunky (with pistachios, cranberries, etc.) with lots of heat. My mouth is watering! Enjoyed your essay!

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