When chile peppers are mentioned in Texas, the jalapeño comes first to mind. But this overrated member of the pepper family isn’t a native, despite its popularity and the fanatical loyalty it commands. The true Texas chile, the only one that grows wild in the state, is the fiery chilipiquin. Bristling with hundreds of oval pods smaller than the nail on a woman’s little finger, the knee-high bushes of the chilipiquin grow abundantly in open country and back yards from South Texas to South America. Green or red, fresh or dried, the incendiary pepper is stewed with meat or beans, ground to make salsas, and pickled for pepper vinegar. It is a seasoning universally used by Mexican and Anglo families alike. Salt and black pepper may be more common, but they have no cachet.
What sets the chilipiquin apart from—and above—other chiles is its legendary heat. Anyone who has endured the eye-watering, nose-running, water-gulping experience of eating a whole chilipiquin would probably just as soon have a cigarette stubbed out on his tongue. It inspires awe and admiration. An undeclared cult of the chile has grown up over the years, but it differs from jalapeño mania in the way cane-pole cat-fishing differs from fly-fishing. Any fool can eat fifty jalapeños or catch a lummox of a fish, but it takes a connoisseur to quarter a chilipiquin before consuming the pepper on a perfectly fried egg or to land a trout on line as delicate as a spider web.
The genus Capsicum,