My 14-year-old son Col is searching for a new mountain bike and I’m a bit boggled by his stringent requirements. I’m not really sure what disc brakes are or why someone would want to propel themselves down a steep, curvy, rock-strewn path while applying them. When I showed Col some suitable mountain bikes I’d located on Craigslist, he looked at me with kind sympathy, as if something was lost in translation and I had pulled up prom dresses for sale.
Our passions don’t overlap much. To be clear, I am the one inhaling the perfumed scent of June lupines lining the trail; he is the one barreling down it.
Like much of Durango, you may get up at 4 a.m. in August to climb some lightning-wreathed Fourteener; I will devote similar hours to squeezing a gallon of juice out of three times as many chokecherries so we can have crimson syrup on December’s pancakes. Sometimes, I wonder what it’d be like to feel more casual about seasonal food. Like, “Oh, tomatoes? Yeah, sometimes they all ripen, sometimes not, no biggie.” And then I’d skip off to do something fun and frivolous, something lost on people who stake their well-being on several hundred red fruits ripening. Instead, come September, I’m pacing the garden, seeing each crimson orb as a future indispensable player on the field of roasted tomato sauce.
But, I love how the urgency of seasonal ripeness grounds me in work so vital and immediate; how a speck of seed nurtured with water, sun and soil becomes life-giving nutrition; how the very caloric abundance of seasonal food brings out my most generous self, i.e., if you come to visit in June, you will leave with a bag of arugula.
And now that summer has arrived like that guest for whom we’ve been anxiously awaiting at the proverbial window of seasonal change, I am thinking about shishito peppers. I am remembering how I scoop shiny, finger-long peppers into bags at Saturday’s farmers market, and how by Tuesday I am again deficient in shishitos. I’m remembering the way their green skin blisters under searing heat, unlocking a soft sweetness that lands on your tongue as a verb between crunch and melt. The way they are not a condiment, not a meal, but occupy some crucial middle ground.
This little East Asian variety of capsicum annum has rocketed to a certain vegetal celebrity status in the past decade. Maybe it’s because they are so quick and simple to prepare; maybe it’s that they’re uncommonly delicious doused in olive oil and salt and singed under high heat. Maybe it’s because there is something magical about eating something at peak freshness in season: Under that sweet, green punch is the taste of impermanence.
Linley Dixon, who runs Adobe House Farms in Durango, has been growing shishitos for five years. Dixon appreciates that shishitos grow quickly in our short season and that her daughter “eats them like crazy.” Shishitos are generally not spicy, though the conventional wisdom is that one in 10 can have a bit of heat. These peppers are, however, high in Vitamin C.
Because each plant produces continuously from late June through the first frost and are picked small, they make financial sense for a farmer in our climate.
“They’re an awesome delicacy that works well for us,” Dixon, whose farm produces just 10 crops, says. “Buying shishitos is a great way to support farmers, instead of demanding red bell peppers.”
Red bell peppers require a much longer growing season and each plant puts out a fraction of the amount of fruit as shishitos. Because of our cool, wet spring, Dixon says that this year’s shishitos are a bit behind; look for them at the market in early July.
There’s so much to obsess about in a Colorado summer. There are peaks to climb, trails to ride and fruit to pick. There are white-crowned sparrows to spot in the alpine willows, as if migrating 1,500 miles biannually were no big deal. There’s the sweet and time-sensitive pleasure of gathering in the evenings with friends, deliciously jacket-less as the sun cashes out on another day. And there’s the ordinary miracle of food spilling from this beloved Earth.
Col still hasn’t found a mountain bike, but I have 20 shishito pepper plants in the ground; I trust we will both feast this summer.
Linley Dixon’s Shishito PeppersIngredients:Shishito peppersOlive oilHigh quality saltOptional:James Ranch belford cheeseLemonSesame oilMethod:Heat a splash of olive oil in a wide sauté pan, cast iron or skillet over medium-high heat until it’s good and hot but not smoking. Add peppers. It’s fine to leave the stems on, so once cooked, you can grab peppers by the stems and eat with your fingers.
Stir every 2-3 minutes until peppers are blistered and starting to brown in spots, then toss them with salt and remove from heat.
If desired, once they come off the heat, add a squeeze of citrus, dash of sesame oil and grated cheese.
Source: Linley Dixon of Adobe House farms