Put a Little Whomp in Your Life

The Chicago Tribune published this fun article about chile peppers in late 1971. It featured Maria and Bernardo Cardenas, who opened Maria Cardenas Supermarket in the sixties, and stayed in business at 1758 W. 18th St. nearly until Chef Alfonso opened 5 Rabanitos Restaurante and Taqueria in December 2015. Every day, we are proud to serve authentic Mexican food amongst the history of Maria Cardenas.

A guide to the more devastating varieties of hot peppers: where to find them, how to serve them, and why you are a better person once the fires have raged inside you.


Chicago Tribune archive, December 12, 1971

IT is not simply the matter of containing large amounts of vitamins and nutrients, altho the hot pepper certainly does. This glowing fruit [or vegetable if you like] offers the seeker some four times as much vitamin C, by weight, as an orange and eight times as much as a tomato. The carrot, darling of the health food shops, has only half of the splendid peppers vitamin A.

Its protein level is low-pepper eaters, a direct and generous group, do not mind conceding a point-but then so is its content of the fattening carbohydrate.

The unique thing about the pepper, however, is its whump. It is certainly the only member of the plant kingdom, and that includes delightful mustard seed preparations, the pungent onion, the corrosive horse radish, and the potent garlic pod.

The whump is not a physical part of the pepper but is a term which describes its impact upon its eater. I have borrowed this word from a former British officer who used it to simulate the impact of an artillery shell.

“In the distance was the terrifying whump of the 105,” he would recall. “Jerry was being difficult that night. We moved out and-whump whump whump- I could see fright in the eyes of the men, when … !”

He was, of course, describing a negative whump. The whump of the pepper, while as sudden and as influential on its environment as the artillery shell, is acutely positive and creative.

Always stimulating, the whump is nevertheless best appreciated when one is in a depressed mental condition. Here are its principal phases:

Prewhump: The subject [or in this phase, the victim] is flat of eye, listless in behavior, notices only the most hideous parts of the landscape, and does not know what he wants. He Is ambiguous In purpose and is not a reliable friend. The period extends thru the second or third bite into a hot pepper.

Whumpact: The subject explodes in perspiration and undergoes a rapid expansion of his upper membranes and tissues. This is measurable scientifically. What is not measurable is his impression that his nostrils are flaring, his ears wiggling, his eyes doubling in size and rolling in random directions, as well as his feeling that he is being knocked out of his chair backwards, slamming Into the ceiling, then landing on the floor in the attack position of an Olympic wrester. He by now is producing a sound difficult to characterize but which perhaps is most similar to the Japanese “Haaiil!” or the Mexican “Ay Chihuahua!”

Postwhump: The subject (in this phase, the victor] settles into a state of vigorous confidence, good will, and directness of manner. He is able to finish difficult tasks. He frequently offers good advice to others and speaks frankly and to the point, altho with some degree of exaggeration. Note: Do not confuse the whump with the “high,” which often separates one from reality and is much more giggly.

Postwhump effects might conceivably last for an indefinite period were it not for other tendencies in the . Most have a craving for high-protein foods-aged cheeses, beans, oysters, shrimp, fish, and ground beef [either cooked or raw], pork [always cooked], and eggs, fried or scrambled. Additionally, there is often heightened taste for corn in the form of tortillas, avocados, beer, and Bloody Marys. You can see that not only the initial content of the pepper, but also the great food values in the Items the pepper-eater.

feels drawn to, will leave the in glowing good health. But also sluggish. Consequently, his enthusiasm [1] leads to overconsumption of peppers, which eventually mutes the taste buds, and (21 invites overeating of the above mentioned foods, which revives dullness and leads to belching. The total whumping period, as a result, rarely lasts for more than two hours.

But It is a good two hours, and the at terminus is in much better condition mentally and physically than he was in .

The whump thru time and space, and how you can have one:

Since there is not a great deal of literature on the hot pepper, one must rely mainly on oral opinions from experts. Most such experts are either in the United States Department of Agriculture, the Louis- iana hot sauce industry, or in the Maria Cardenas Supermarket at 1758 W. 18th St. on Chicago’s South Side. Departments of horticulture in the University of California branches at Riverside and Davis, Indiana University, and Louisiana State University provide reliable supplemental information. Most data on the whump itself, however, comes from my own personal experience.

The hot pepper has been in cultivation for more than 3,000 years, apparently originating in Mexico found also thruout the tropical regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the various equa- torial islands. There are five distinct varieties, but American should be concerned with only one, Capiscum Annuum. This includes the rich but subtle hot cherry pepper, the treacherously green but profoundly delicious Mexican jalapeno [hal-a-PAIN-o], the capricious sport, the dark egg- plant-like favorite of the Aztecs called the chipotle [chee-PO-tlee], the explosive cayenne, the quick- whumping cascabel and , and the all-purpose serrano. Only one American pepper favorite belongs to a different species, the winey and mellow tabasco [Capsicum Futeacens]. Note: The most popular peppers in America are not mentioned since they do not provide whumps. These are, of course, the sweet bell, the bland pimento, and the black ground pepper corn. Also tasty but relatively are the vinegary banana pepper, the Italian pepperoncini, and the Greek saloniki.

There is no known use for the pepper in religious ceremonies of the various pepper-eating cultures, ancient or modern. It must be assumed that it has been used as an aphrodisiac (as have many known vegetable, fruit, and insect species), altho its princi- pal effect on one s appreciation of love probably less in its capacity to increase the circulation. Instead, it has been regarded largely as a flavoring agent, particularly for tainted meats [which has unfairly led to the hot pepper s generally low reputation.]

Surprisingly enough, some believe that the hot pepper has medicinal value-particularly, if you will buy this, for bad stomachs. I now quote a testimonal letter sent to B. F. Trappy, the hot- sauce man from New Iberia, La.

The writer was a 62-year-old sufferer from stomach trouble who, thru the knowledge that “no Mexicans ever suffer from this,” began a regimen of hot peppers.

“In less than three days the results were amazing. I ate two with my evening meal only. Since I started on them (I now eat them about every three days], I can eat anything I care for, including hard-to- digest foods such as bologna, salami, bananas, onions, chill, or similar foods. I can mix them as I desire, topping off with ice cream or anything else, and still no disturbance at all. You can imagine my outlook now.”

This is not printed as an endorsement of peppers as a curative (I frankly find their psychological value much more enduring] but simply to show what a multifaceted food they are.

The Trappy files also contain an interesting example of hot pepper humor [which all cherish]. It Is a newspaper account from the early 1960s of an annual hot pepper eating contest held in South Louisiana and reads as follows:

“The second World Championship hot pepper eating contest at Trappy’s Dulcito Plantation ended in a photo finish with beauteous Dot (Pepper Pot] Bourgeois and Jules [Inferno] Lleux, both of Baton Rouge, sharing the pepper crown.

“Outwardly cool, they munched their way thru five heats of progressively hotter peppers to burn out defending champion Edwin [Hot Mouth] Taylor, Ethel [Asbestos] Bowlin, and Dr. George [Brimstone] Dando.

“Miss Bourgeois, whose measurements are 36-23- 36, is a secretary in Baton Rouge and already holds the titles of Miss Baton Rouge, Miss Weekend Warrior, and Miss Fiesta Under Five Flags. Her cowinner, Jules Lieux, whose less impressive measurements of 42-33-38 add up to 180 pounds, lost out to Hot Mouth Taylor in last year s pepper contest when his smile of pleasure over the mild- ness of the peppers was mistaken for a grimace of pain.”

The delightful insinuations of the prose indicate that the writer had known more than one whump. [As a closing note on this article, Miss Bourgeois later became Donna Douglas and then Elly May on the television series, The Beverly Hillbillies.]

Under the assumption that whatever it is that makes a pepper hot is the same substance that triggers the whump, I questioned Paul Smith, pro- fessor of vegetable crops [and a pepper expert] at the University of California in Davis. He was not familiar with the whump-surprisingly his major nonprofessional concern with the pepper is that it burns-but he does know the heating ingredient, a little-understood chemical called capsaicin. It is not an acid, is not found in any other plant, and has no known medical, industrial, or economic use. When the pepper is pickled, spreads to everything else in the pickling mixture, which could include tomatoes, onions, dill, garlic, and what have you. Capsaicin also has not been associated with ulcers or stomach cancer, but it does have the capacity to stick to the skin for days, he mentioned.

He also does not understand why nature supplied the pepper with capsaicin. It apparently is not very good as a defensive agent since wild birds love the pepper almost as much as the most fanatical human , he said. No, capsaicin is just there.

This suggests that medical science has much to learn about the whump. A well-balanced research program into the subject should cover at least the following areas:

1. Is capsaicin the driving mechanism of the whump, or does it work only in combination with other pepper ingredients? I suspect the latter, prin- thru long comparisons of the Mexican pre- served pepper, the American preserved pepper and hot sauce, and the perfectly raw pepper. The Mexican preserved ones-jalapenos and serranos principally, packed in rich oils and spices instead of the vinegar and saline solutions preferred by the Americans-have a much more consistent whump rating. Raw peppers, hot and skin-removing as they are, surprisingly lack the whump. Hot sauces, in large amounts, have medium whumping effects.

2. Is this mysterious whumping agent a potential wonder chemical which could relieve the depressions of suffering millions, convert malingerers and mal- contents into vigorous and enthusiastic citizens, and forever stamp out narcotics thru offering something more pleasurable for the psyche?

3. Is it really true that seldom eat their peppers alone?

4. Historians might find it useful to examine the diets of certain key historical figures whose actions indicate that they were almost continually whumped. These might include Pancho Villa, Huey P. Long, Attila, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Kim II Sung, and my friend Bernardo Cardenas of l8th Street.

But now, of course, you want to know where and how you can get your whump.

Most Chicago supermarkets and corner groceries carry a few brands of hot peppers. Almost all of the American types are of medium whump value, except for the canned green and red hot peppers of the El Paso brand, which rank slightly higher.

But after considerable searching, I found no place in Chicago that has a larger variety of peppers than the Cardenas supermarket on 18th Street. The cans stretch row after row-five-gallon tins of hearty jalapenos and serranos, tiny con- tainers of the implosive chipotle, all manner of rich ranchero sauce mixtures, and many varieties of powdered peppers with oboe-like penetrating powers. And there are racks and racks of fresh ones, to taste. There are many shops on 18th Street with peppers, but none with such variety.

Bernardo Cardenas, Maria’s husband, shows all the signs of the . He tells hearty male-type stories [“The girls they all like hot peppers, ay Chihuahua!”], worked himself up from a Michoa- can farm boy to migrant worker in the U. S., to his present status of a man who orders one van truck of peppers from Mexico a week, hires mariachi bands to serenade customers in his several stores, and performs some preelection day tasks for Mayor Daley. He likes to buy Mexican beer for strangers who tell him they are interested in hot peppers [myself, for instance] and to give them bag after bag of dried ones. That is all for you.

Now, in getting whumped, you do not have to know a lot of recipes. The better Mexican and American pepper varieties already mentioned are without further tampering. Your main problem Is to select what foods to serve around the appropriate pepper. [Note that I have removed the pepper from its traditional role of being a flavoring agent. I prefer to think of it as the cen- tral element of the table with other foods performing only roles of mediation.)

The breakfast whump: Fry two eggs. Slice one medium sized jalapeno, serrano, etc., and squeeze the juice on the egg yolks. Mix in one-half of the pepper with each egg. Serve with a bowl of chili of your favorite type [add more peppers, but not until the chili is done, as cooking reduces the pep- pers’ whumping power]; slices of herring or an- with smail side dishes of chipotle; and if it is Sunday, add [to yourself] beer or Bloody Marys to taste.

The afternoon whump: This has classical simplicity . Eat a slice of cheese with a slice of pepper. Side dishes might include fried tomatoes with hot sauce, guacamole, and tortillas with beans.

The Lucullon Suppertime whump: Cook bland fish such as flounder, sole, or trout in your usual way except for adding chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers-with juice-during the last minute or so. Also prepare pork roast in standard way except for last-minute pepper addition. Trenchermen would also want their usual Steak Tartare, but of course. Accompany with refreshments mentioned in breakfast whump.

The more cautious may want to first consult their family doctor. I can only say that I know of no true who believe that peppers have taken away from their lives. We happily await a vigorous middle age with clear eyes and hearty and splotchy complexions, and we move with a great deal more vigor than our paunches would indicate. We are even-mannered and quietly confident that some day, perhaps in an unexpected way, will come the Ultimate Whump.

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