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"Eat to excess whatever's in season."

This statement encapsulates my personal produce philosophy. I will probably shun any fruit or vegetable until I find fresh and local, but when I find fresh and local, I turn into a genuine glutton. The Muse and I share this guiding philosophy. Winters force us into crouched, defensive positions where we somehow subsist upon root veg and obscure members of the cabbage family. Sure, we could score asparagus from Peru and blueberries from New Zealand, but we'll shun those carbon-clad choices. We'd really rather starve. Spring and Summer, though, find us enthusiastically frequenting the family produce market where The Old Man drives to the other side of the state twice each week to bring back truckloads of whatever's presently in season. We dutifully buy then eat to excess whatever's fresh each week. No produce better exemplifies this philosophy in action than the audacious HotGreen Chile.

No, I do not mean Jalapeño, that seemingly ubiquitous pretender pepper, the Wonder® Bread of hot chiles. I find the Jalapeño uneatable, mean heat accompanied by the flavor of muddy lawn.
I mean Hot Hatch, from New Mexico's Hatch Valley, roasted fresh in a huge propane-fired squirrel cage of a contraption that fires fifty pounds of them at a time. By mid-August, every other street corner along Denver's Sante Fe Boulevard features a seasonal chile roaster with gunny sacks of fresh HotGreen stacked around it like barricades against the coming cold. Our little family-run produce market cordons off a corner of their front parking lot, the same corner that will later house their Christmas tree operation, erects a huge canvas tent cover, and commences to fire up two roasters. And people like The Muse and I line up to order our half or full "bush" before dutifully waiting back behind the roasters, where the smoke and scent will thoroughly disinfect us. This act seems a necessary rite of passage, an acquiescence to the inevitable. Summer's ending. Long Live Summer!

My eyes always seem much bigger than my capabilities. I suppose this to be a perfectly forgivable human trait. I really should order a demure 'half bush', but tend to confidently request instead an over-reaching 'full.' I take my chit inside and pay the fare before heading back out there to watch the clown car process by which my HotGreen gets transformed from pedestrian side vegetable into genuine ambrosia. The crew affects an orderly operation, with the head guy dutifully scrawling each order on a discarded box top, checking off each completed batch. The menu mentions a hot half dozen varieties, inevitably including some hot new one from Pueblo along with the familiar Big Jims and Hot Moscos. I'm there for the HotGreen Hatch, and will not even see whatever else might try to entice me. I feel perfectly smug in my certainty. My order for a full bush of Hot Hatch makes its way through the crooked queue.

We leave with a very large ice chest three quarters filled with steaming hot chilies. These will stay right on the edge of too hot to touch for several hours as we work our way through our own clown car process for preserving them. Most just pop them into freezer bags, a little-too-sanely deferring the actual processing until just before use, but our freezer space has already been compromised by excessive purchases of fresh cherries, The Muse's essential breakfast staple, and Lord doesn't even want to know what else. We can our excess, peeling, seeding, then chopping them before spooning the result into small jars, screwing on lids, and pressure cooking. The peeling and seeding will take all afternoon and well into the evening. Supper, such as it will be, won't come until nearly ten o'clock that night, and my lower back will ache as if I'd driven eight hundred hard highway miles, but we will have satisfied some essential requirement for our continuing mental health, however crazy that might seem to anyone uninfected by the desire for HotGreen.

Our parents taught us well, cluttering up their summer kitchens with jars, lids, and immense volumes of whatever produce was in season. Boxes of fresh asparagus dropped off by a family friend working seasonal shifts at a local cannery. "Lugs" of peaches from the dented can produce market over on state line. The whole house would be serially infused with parades of produce, with even the little kids impressed into service slicing pears, stuffing jars, or schlepping slightly sticky finished ones to the basement fruit room for storage. I learned how to snap fresh green beans before I learned to ride a bike. The season cannot pass without reliving those times. It would seem simply obscene to let a summer pass without creating such an overwhelming mess in the kitchen. How else would a kitchen ever get that much-needed annual scrub down if not for first making some overwhelming mess there?

I fancy myself a process engineer, honing my technique with each harvest. My first attempt at canning HotGreen left me frustrated, recalcitrant blackened peel seeming to want to just stay put rather than release, but an old friend confided secret means for peeling fresh roasted chiles and I incorporated that secret into my prep. The first batch left my hands burning so I now wear surgical gloves. I very slowly, over subsequent summers, stumbled upon further improvements, each reinforcing my truly delusional notion that I might one day painlessly process excess. I suspect that I will never stumble upon the ultimate secret, for each fresh batch finds me almost overwhelmed, impatiently praying to get down to the last one, simply discarding the most recalcitrant ones which, even when exposed to the secret for removing their peel, still simply refuse to cooperate. Some of whatever fruit won't have gotten the memo that this would be the moment to cooperate. As my aching back starts to overtake my best intentions. those SOBs seem to stand between me and done. HotGreen also leaves me sneezing and snotty. I must take frequent breaks to blow my nose and grab a few ever-shortening breaths before tackling the next batch in an apparently infinite line of batches. I suspect that if I ever actually remembered what a genuine pain in the butt canning a Full Bush of HotGreen always turns out to be, I'd abandon my childish notion that I should eat to excess whatever's in season and sadly settle for the sorry gold-plated shit they sell in the supermarket. We remain fools to our blessed excesses, somehow purified by these torturous, self-inflicted routines, but we'll be back next Late Summer for our annual Full Bush of HotGreen.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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