Peppadews of Madness, Empanadas of Malcontent
January 31, 2005
The Peppadew is a sweet, tangy, mildly spicy pickled pepper from South Africa. It's got an appealing flavor profile: It starts out sweet, then gets tangy, and then finishes with a warm, suffused heat. It's hard to tell how much of this is due to the nature of the pepper itself and how much is due to the brine. (The peppers are not available fresh.)
I made the appetizer pictured by stuffing a cube of aged Cheddar inside a Peppadew and pinning a wad of soppressata to it with a toothpick. Quite good.
I don't know how it happened, but for well over a year I've been thinking that a Peppadew was some kind of pepper crossbred with a honeydew melon. It seems silly in retrospect, but I swear it made sense at the time. The most disturbing thing is that I have absolutely no idea how I came to think that. I'm pretty sure it wasn't from the friend that introduced them to me. And I'm equally certain that I've never met another living soul that had heard of them before I gave them one. So just where did this crazy idea come from?
Was it just a stray hypothesis based on the name and the fact that they're kind of sweet (which actually comes from the brine) that somehow transmuted in my brain into a fact? The autogeny of an urban legend usually occurs during transmission between people, and it's a bit bothersome to think that I'm giving birth to them all by myself. Okay, maybe I'm taking this a bit too seriously.
The truth is that, outside of the company line, which is largely content-free, not much information is available about what the Peppadew actually is. Urban legends reproduce well in low-information environments. In fact, I suggest that you can see one in action right now with regard to the Peppadew -- one besides my own, that is. The original company materials noted that Peppadews looked like little cherry tomatoes. One way of expressing this resemblance was to say that Peppadews "looked like a cross between" a pepper and a tomato. Possibly after having read such a description, some people decided that Peppadews also tasted like such a cross. A lot of people began reporting that the product was "sort of a cross between" them. It's not really clear what they meant by "sort of a cross"; most likely they didn't know either and didn't care to take the trouble to clarify matters. Then, finally, the genesis of an urban legend: somewhere, in some random mutation, the "sort of" got dropped. People began reporting that the Peppadew was a cross between a pepper and a tomato.
Like all good urban legends, this one has some associated facts that lend it just enough support to seem credible enough to propagate: besides the taste and the look, the discoverer of the plant and the creator of the product was a tomato farmer.
Ordinarily I'd make fun of the originators of such stories as sloppy thinkers and lazy writers, but look at me! Up until last week, I told people that it was the product of an interracial union between a pepper and a melon! Not that there's anything wrong with that. (I'd also like to point out that when it came time for me to put something down in writing about it, I did enough digging to find out that I was wrong.)
So what, then, is the Peppadew? Some people suggest that it's a hitherto obscure pepper from Central America. Others suggest that it is a pepper hybrid (no, between two peppers) of recent provenance. Either way, it's a fun little fruit. Check it out.
Recently, Jeanne over at Cook Sister talked about peppadews from a perspective that's closer to the source. Have a look.
I made empanadas the same night that I made Peppadew-on-a-stick. I had a grand idea: a pork shoulder, black bean, plantain, and currant filling. I slowly braised the pork shoulder and shredded it like I normally do, briefly boiled the plantains, added the beans and the currants, threw in a goodly bit of lime juice, and let the whole mixture cook together for awhile. The end result? Ho hum. Eatable, but entirely unremarkable. I had a great idea for a recipe, good ingredients, and flawless technique (ha!), but things still didn't work out. Sometimes you just can't catch a break.
I'm not sure where to lay the blame. The pork was probably underspiced, but that could hardly be the sole culprit. The empanada dough I made, while functional, lacked character. It probably would have been better if I'd had some masa harina. Still, something else was missing...
I'm eager to try again, though, using masa harina in the dough and with a different recipe for a filling. Any suggestions?
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