Friday, February 24, 2012

Experimental Guest Post:
Southern Pepper Jelly

Pepper jelly available in red, green, and sunshine color, possibly Amish-made.

A note from Kale Daikon:
My dear veggie friends, today I introduce you to a new feature on WV: the guest post. My high school friend and sophomore year Winter Ball date, veg name Jalapeño Rice, has taken 15 experimental minutes out from his rising career as a skateboarding columnist and writer-at-large to send a dispatch from the outskirts of Nashville calling our attention to the southern phenomenon known as Pepper Jelly. A vegetable in jelly form strikes us San Franciscans as highly unusual, hence its appearance on WV. 
Speaking of the South and strange forms of jelly, you should also check out Vile Jelly Radio, a delightful smorgasbord of music, banter, and folksy advice broadcast live from Columbia, MO every Sunday (and available on the Internet forevermore) by the talented and pee-your-pants-funny Andrew Leland, who claims WV as one of his favorite blogs in this interview! Okay, I hereby leave you to the spicy musings of Mr. Rice.

Reed's Grocery, somewhere outside of Nashville

I am what is the word? The OULIPO movement did this? There is a fancy word for giving yourself a limitation in writing a narrative/story/text but I can’t think of it right now. But the constraint, the self-imposed constraint, I am installing in this anecdote is that I will only compose this for fifteen minutes exactly and I will not use the World Wide Web/ Information Super Highway/ Google or any other resource to aid me in the telling of this tale. I mean this as no disrespect to Weird Vegetables. But on the contrary I will honor Weird Vegetables by my becoming brevity. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and…uh…the other word…maybe the almost right word…he might have said…is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” But the more germane quote from Mark Twain was, “I was going to write a short letter but I did not have enough time.”
I only have 11 more minutes.
This epistle, as it were, concerns “pepper jelly.” My wife and I live in a surprisingly sophisticated, Cheeveresque enclave just outside Nashville. One afternoon we were going to meet our friends for an early dinner. I found myself at Reed’s Grocery—a small, family owned stand next to an ancient graveyard of the kind common in popular depictions of the Dirty South.
I wanted to get something for the couple we were meeting for dinner. I went to the back of the store. My wife was going to meet me across from Reed’s after work.
I walked to the back and saw several jars lining the walls
Ack 8 minutes…!!
Every kind of pepper jelly was in the back there. Like, literally, 9 different kinds of pepper jelly. I had never had it before and never even heard of such a thing. So I asked the proprietress, “How do you eat this? Is it sweet?” She said, “Yes. It’s sweet. It goes with…”
And she mentioned some things.
I picked out the green jar and bought that. I was sort of anxious about my purchase. I had visions of strange and not savory or sweet or delicious foods my Dad would bring home such as a weird form of Indian Ice Cream my wife still contends was soap. And unsweetened chocolate. So I am constantly interrogating myself to see if I am becoming my father? Was this, I wondered, some weird and not tasty/sweet exotic food item that would make the couple uncomfortable? Would they feel compelled to try it?
So nervously, when we arrived at the couple’s house, I brought the pepper jelly out of the paper bag and said something to the effect of, “Here I brought this for you.”
“Pepper Jelly!” she said as though she were greeting an old friend.
Here I had been concerned that “Pepper Jelly” was too out-there, and some weird thing, like unsweetened chocolate or ice cream that tasted like soap. Instead, Pepper Jelly, she explained, was a staple of her childhood and a common delicacy often served in social settings throughout the South.
She dispatched me to the local grocery store to get water crackers and cream cheese. We ate the pepper jelly that afternoon with the aforementioned items and it was delicious, slightly spicy but mostly sweet—a pleasing green color like the cover of Ulysses.
Since that time we have given pepper jelly to my parents and some other people and they like it. Here is where I would write some exposition about the history of pepper jelly and its sociological significance in the Southeastern United States.
—Jalapeño Rice

Some fans of pepper jelly, including the sultry-looking Lee Ann Rimes

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