My first introduction to Scotch bonnets is not a happy memory. I had a cooking lesson planned with our house help, Aunty Mercy, who lived with us and helped my grandmother take care of my sister and me in exchange for room, board, and the chance to learn a trade. I wanted to do everything myself so, after the peppers had been soaking in water for a while, she let me remove their stems. Unaware that the seeds and the oil from the skin contain the greatest concentration of the peppers’ heat, I took my sweet time. I put the peppers on the stone and began to grind them; twenty minutes later, I was crying because my palms were burning. I proceeded to swipe a tear from my eye, and that’s when the whole neighborhood knew what I was cooking. I had my hands wrapped in the leaves of a cooling herb plucked from our next-door neighbor’s garden and skipped supper that night.
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