Here's one of the silliest things I grow in my kitchen garden – habanero chillies. Why silliest? Well, I don't use them in cooking – they're too hot – and so I just grow them because I like the look of them. I've always been a sucker for apricot coloured things.
A few years ago Habanero chillies were famous for being the world's hottest, rating 10 points out of 10 on the heat scale, but in recent years this crown has been forfeited to various other, infinitely – no, make that insanely – hotter chillies. But the new heat champions are tiny, mean vicious little runts, not remotely as aristocratic in form as a beautiful apricot habanero.
Someone ought to perfect a way of turning habaneros into earrings.
I tried, dutifully, for a couple of years to find a way to enjoy habaneros in my cooking, but to my taste buds they are not only too viciously hot but also somehow sweetish, not all that pleasant as a flavour or a source of heat. I cannot understand those masochistic westerners who get their jollies eating burning hot food every now and then at curry houses, although I do understand how people from South-East Asia and other countries who eat intensely hot food daily can become so accustomed to chillies that they hardly notice the heat. While I love spices and herbs and use them almost daily, I've never been a fan of intense heat in food, and so I prefer to use milder chillies such as Jalapenos (5 on the 10 pt scale) and Serranos (7 on the scale).
A while ago a cookery writer told me about her husband, Asian-born and a lover of chillies. He finds most restaurant food here too bland, so he often brings one or two chillies with him (plus a pen-knife) when he eats out, so he can slice raw chilli over his meal to bring the heat up to an acceptable level. One evening they harvested some home-grown habaneros, and so he took them with him to try them out. Unfortunately for him, the habaneros must have been zingers, and he ended up gulping water, coughing, with his eyes burning brightly, sweat flooding his brow. While suitably appropriate sounds of sympathy and concern emanated from his other dining companions, the glances flashing between them were of mirth.
Beware the pretty habanero. It might be a de-throned prince of the burning fires, but it can still fell the unwary!