Sunday, November 19, 2023

"The Heat Is On"

By Jerry Zezima

I never thought I was hot stuff — especially when I look in the mirror to shave, a reflection that leaves me cold — but I sure am hot stuff now.

That’s because I have just tried the world’s hottest sauce. And I can proudly say, with some difficulty due to a scorched tongue, that I resisted the urge to call 911 so the fire department could extinguish an inferno that nearly sent smoke billowing from my mouth.

The sauce is made by the PuckerButt Pepper Co. of Fort Mill, South Carolina. The company’s owner, president and self-proclaimed “mad scientist,” Smokin’ Ed Currie, has developed and grown Pepper X, a volcanic veggie that was recently certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chili pepper.

It is the key ingredient in the torrid product, known as Gator Sauce, which could turn the cold-blooded reptile hot-blooded. And that’s no croc.

Anyway, my good buddy Hank Richert, who lives a short drive from the PuckerButt store, alerted me to Pepper X. Since my wife, Sue, and I would soon be seeing Hank and his wife, Angela, he promised to bring a bottle of the stuff for me to try.

Sue loves hot, spicy food. I’m rather cool to it, so I was not the ideal candidate to sample a sauce that could turn my otherwise empty skull into Mount Vesuvius.

For a pep (short for pepper) talk, I called PuckerButt and spoke with Smokin’ Ed’s wife, Linda, who admitted that she doesn’t have a high heat tolerance.

“I can’t eat the hot stuff,” she said. “I go for the mild sauces. Ed is the one who can tolerate hot stuff better than most people. And he does all the cooking. I don’t touch the peppers. I don’t even let him cook in the kitchen. He has to cook in the factory or at the farm where he grows the peppers. But he’s a card. And a genius. We have a lot of fun. I’ll soon be 62 and he just turned 60. We’re not spring chickens.”

“Could I put the hot sauce on chicken?” I wondered.

“Ask Ed,” Linda said.

So I did.

“Yes, it’s good on chicken, but I love it on scrambled eggs,” he told me.

“Your wife called you a genius,” I said.

“My wife calls me a lot of things,” said Ed, who also developed the Carolina Reaper, the pepper that since 2013 had held the record as the world’s hottest.

“Why did you develop Pepper X?” I inquired.

“To top myself,” Ed said. “Nobody else had done it, so I figured that after 10 years, I would come up with an even hotter pepper.”

He added that Pepper X has been measured at 2.69 million Scoville Heat Units, making it the world’s hottest.

“I wanted to shake things up in the pepper world,” said Ed, adding that citric acid is the best thing for tempering the blazing effects of Pepper X.

“Should I put a lemon slice next to my scrambled eggs?” I asked.

“It couldn’t hurt,” Ed replied. “Good luck!”

A few days later, when Sue and I saw the Richerts, who hadn’t tried the hot sauce, Hank handed me a bottle of the stuff.

“Wear asbestos underwear,” he warned me.

“And make sure Sue is with you,” Angela added. “You might need immediate medical attention.”

The following Saturday morning, I cooked my usual weekend breakfast: scrambled eggs with link sausages, toast and a glass of orange juice. I also cut a fresh lemon into slices and placed one next to my dish.

I donned a pair of clear industrial vinyl gloves and opened my bottle of hot sauce. I put a drop on my eggs, lifted a forkful to my mouth, took a deep breath, shoved it in, chewed and swallowed.

Nothing happened for about two seconds. Then, an explosion ripped through my palate. My tongue throbbed, my eyes watered and my whole mouth felt like it was on fire.

“How is it?” asked Sue, who sat next to me at the kitchen table.

“Ugh, ack, orf!” I stammered.

Then I grabbed the lemon slice, pressed it against my lips and sucked it dry. The juice did its job. The three-alarm blaze was extinguished.

My tongue tingled, but I survived.

“I’m hot stuff,” I assured Sue. “And I didn’t even need asbestos underwear.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

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