My friends don’t bring me records anymore. I think they worry I have too many.
Instead, every several weeks, another text message or email appears: “Do you have this one?” each reads, the text accompanied by some ridiculous nameSatan’s Ghost, Hellfire’s First Blood, Insanityand an absurd image of a hot pepper crying or smiling in the sun or perhaps Beelzebub wielding a pitchfork built from fiery red fruit. I invariably reply with multiple exclamation marks. Understanding my addiction, my pals find a little extra room in their checked bags for yet another hot sauce, helping stock the ranks of my obsessive collection.
Two years ago, I did much the same. Not long after arriving in Montego Bay, Jamaica for my honeymoon, I asked a bartender for a bit of hot sauce to enliven my dish. He handed me a life changer: the semi-sweet Scotch bonnet sauce, where one of the hotter peppers in the world comes suspended in a viscous mix of corn starch and vinegar, onions and acid. Its sweetness dances on the front of the tongue, just before the heat races along it and radiates to the throat. The pleasure and the pain! I was smitten.
After my first taste, I kept pouring and asking for more and pouring … During the next week, I emptied several bottles on breadfruit, sandwiches and, yes, sometimes even mango. When I left, I wrapped a legion of bottles in tissue paper and socks, toting concoctions made from the Caribbean’s primary pepper the way most tourists leave with bottles of rum and satchels of Blue Mountain coffee. It has since become my favorite hot sauce variety, so much so that I buy new brands taste untested.
Neither the Scotch bonnet pepper nor sauces made from it are particularly rare. You can grow the former in your Tar Heel garden, or find the latter in the aisles of most area grocery stores. But I’d generally foregone the Scotch bonnet, distracted by my own region’s propensity for the cayenne-based sauce or even the ultra-hot, ultra-vogue ghost or Carolina Reaper varieties. But when a waiter in Jamaica hands you a bottle of Scotch bonnet, you try it, no mater how silly the beach-chair scene or the fire-breathing Rastafarian on the front label may look. And then, if you’re like me, you buy a ridiculous amount, offer your new wife a preemptive apology and get on the plane.