Book News June 2011
Iowa City-based chef and local/sustainable food advocate Friese, Nicaragua-based agroecologist and writer Kraft, and Arizona-based natural history writer and ethnobotanist Nabhan offer an account of their recent journey across eight pepper-growing states in the southwestern and southern US and in Mexico to explore one symbolic food — the chile pepper in its various forms — and the impact of climate change on the destinies of the both pepper and the people who habitually harvest or cook with chiles. Both entertaining and informative, the text will appeal to chile pepper aficionados and foodies, as well as general readers concerned with the effects of global warming. Mouth-watering recipes are distributed throughout the text.
Kirkus Reviews - April 1, 2011
Three self-described "gastronauts" plumb climate change through the piquant prism of chile peppers.
The journey is the destination as the earnest trio launch their "spice ship" throughout the United States and Mexico to learn how shifting weather patterns have been affecting the noble pepper's destiny—and the fate of those who rely on the crop. The authors—a chef, an agroecologist and an ethnobotanist—rely on listening (and, of course, eating) during theirÂ one-year odyssey, harvesting anecdotes to better understand the global dilemma. "We had a hunch that climate change wasn't just out there—in the polar ice caps and in receding glaciers—but in here, in our food system," they write. On their travels, the authors meet men like Fernando NiÃ±o Estudillo, a spice trader in Sonora who describes his recent quandary: "I've been ten years in the business; most years I drive truckloads of chiltepines to Tijuana myself. Only this last year has the wild chile crop ever failed me...I didn't even make a single trip to the border." But it's not all serious—the trio relishes chiles, after all. In Florida, as they prepare to dig into a jar of datil peppers in white vinegar, they write, "We smiled at one another like old junkies who have just discovered that someone left a couple of joints in their midst."
The occasionally florid writing notwithstanding, the book provides well-crafted regional recipes and edifying passages about the surveyed chiles.
Marketplace - The Big Book
April 29, 2011
What do you get when you put a chef, an agroecologist and an ethnobotantist in a van and send them traveling all over North America? In the end, you get a book: Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail. It is a treatise on the history of chili peppers and a look at the future of their production in the face of climate uncertainty. Chili peppers are among North and Central America’s oldest foods, after maize and beans, and spread to Europe and then Asia thanks to Columbus. Now, due to drought and extreme storms, the cultivation of peppers in some of their native places is being threatened. The three authors, Kurt Friese, Kraig Kraft and Gary Nabhan, look at what’s happening to chili production and how it might affect the food we eat. There’s some recipes here, too.
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Hot on the Trail of Chili Peppers
Anne Raver - New York Times - April 6, 2011
THERE was a frost expected here two weeks ago, but Gary Paul Nabhan, a conservation biologist and inveterate seed-saver, was out in his hardscrabble garden anyway, planting his favorite food, hot chilies.
Chiltepin, chile de árbol (the one that scrambles up trees), Tabasco, serrano, pasilla, Chimayó. These are only a few of the pungent peppers that Mr. Nabhan and two other chili lovers — Kurt Michael Friese, a chef from Iowa City, and Kraig Kraft, an agro-ecologist studying the origin of hot peppers — collected on a journey that began two years ago, in northern Mexico, and took them across the hot spots of this country....
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Suite 101 - March 28, 2011
By Andrea Ruiz
Chasing Chiles is an amazing travelogue that brings climate change and its effects down to the grassroots level through the lens of rare chiles.
If what scientists are saying about the effects of global warming are true, the outlook for our planet is a dire one indeed. Already, more than 400,000 square miles of Arctic sea ice have melted, causing sea levels to rise, and coastal areas to be more prone to flooding. Combine this with a 100% increase in the intensity and duration of hurricanes, increased temperatures, and a dramatic rise in CO2 levels, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Of course, statistics and scientific predictions all dwell within a realm of uncertainty. It is not known for example, what the full impact of global warming and climate change will be, and how these changes will affect humans and their food sources. What is known, is that the earth will be effected, in fact is already being effected in ways great and small.
In the book, Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail, three pepper enthusiasts set out on a quest to discover if and how climate change has impacted rare chiles such as the chiltepin of Mexico, the datil pepper of Jacksonville, Florida, and the Tabasco pepper of Avery Island, Louisiana. They also meet with local growers to ascertain first-hand how climate change has affected "the front lines" of chile production. By using chiles as a microcosm for food sources in general, the effects of global warming and climate change can be seen at a more personal level, rather than just as a list of statistics and a litany of dire predictions.
Notable Edibles - Edible Madison - Spring 2011
Authors Kraig Kraft, Gary Paul Nabhan and Chef Kurt Michael Friese (all three involved in Edible Communities magazines) traveled the Southwest and Mexico searching out the story of climate change, the most controversial topic of our time, narrowed through the lens of the tiny yet iconic chile pepper and those who farm, cook and eat this fiery and culturally symbolic ingredient. “We had a hunch that climate change wasn’t just out there—in the polar ice caps and in receding glaciers—but in here, in our food system, in our daily bread as well,” the three self-proclaimed “chileheads” write in the introduction. Surprisingly, the chile is a perfect food to follow; it has spread in various varieties to all six inhabited continents and has found its way into main dishes of numerous ethnicities. Part travel narrative, part gastro-exploration, the first chapter had me hooked. I was also pleasantly surprised to read about a pepper that takes its name from a city right here in Wisconsin.
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The Wall Street Journal - March 19, 2011
A Hot Time on the Old Plate Tonight
Ancient Mexicans were gathering and eating chile peppers 9,000 years ago, but the pungent pods didn't make it to the rest of the world until Christopher Columbus introduced them in the early 16th century. Since then chiles have become an intricate part of cuisines as varied as those of Spain, Hungary, Turkey and Indochina. The authors of "Chasing Chiles"—Kurt Michael Friese (a chef), Kraig Kraft (an agroecologist) and Gary Paul Nabhan (an ethnobotanist)—observe that the chile has served as a vegetable (think grilled or stuffed peppers), a condiment (Tabasco), a pest repellent, a medicine (in parts of Africa chiles are a remedy for piles, though the cure may be worse than the disease) and even the poison on an archer's arrow tip. All of which explains why more than 25 million metric tons of chili peppers are harvested annually world-wide.
The authors of "Chasing Chiles" bring an interesting mix of perspectives to their subject as they take readers on a year-long road trip, visiting America's pepper-growing states and Mexico's chile zones in a van dubbed The Spice Ship. The text is peppered with practical advice: e.g., "a handy rule of thumb to judge any Mexican, Caribbean, or Central or South American restaurant is to check out their ceviche," a marinated seafood dish that is traditionally seasoned with chili peppers. Among the book's kitchen tips: Home cooks who want to make Xnipek, a distinctive salsa from the Yucatán, and who lack the region's bitter orange, can substitute fresh grapefruit, Florida orange and lime juices in a 2:1:1 ratio. In a short afterword, the authors offer five principles for "eating and growing food in ways that counter climate change." For some reason these do not include: no long trips in a van. —Aram Bakshian Jr.
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A rollicking quest for chiles 'Along The Pepper Trail'
Authors trace history of chile on 'spice odyssey' starting in Mexico
Jill Koenigsdorf | For The New Mexican - Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Everyone loves a book that has a good quest at its center, be it a great white whale, a holy grail or, in the case of ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan, chef Kurt Friese, and agro-ecologist Kraig Kraft, rare and heirloom chiles.
Their new book, Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along The Pepper Trail (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), is a rollicking ride, a "spice odyssey" that begins in Mexico and continues through several places in America where chile peppers are an integral part of the culture. The trio is passionate about its pursuit and, in the grand old tradition of a road-trip story, the book is chock-full of recipes, humorous adventures, chile lore and, most importantly, sobering statistics on the effects of climate change on food and agriculture.
In all the lofty discussions of global warming, or "global weirding" as The New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman astutely suggested we call it, there was very little input from the farmers — those people truly affected by the shifts on a daily basis. Kraft, Nabhan and Friese wanted to give a voice to these growers. Since all three of them were chile junkies, they hoped that narrowing their focus down to this one particular crop "would ignite the fires in the bellies and imaginations of our readers," they wrote. All three men were already involved in grassroots organizations whose aims were "to promote and preserve rare and place-based foods," so their approach — to go to the source, to listen to those in the trenches — seemed fitting.
Consider the chile. "Spice, vegetable, condiment, colorant, medicine, pest repellent, preservative, weapon. ... Globally, more than twenty-five million metric tons of chile peppers are harvested each year with China, Mexico, Turkey, Spain, and The United States currently leading the world in both production and consumption," the book states.
Where to begin their quest? Mexico, the "motherland" of wild and domesticated chiles. In their van christened "The Spice Ship," these Musketeers of the sustainable-foods movement hit the road.
If there is a villain in Chasing Chiles, it is certainly climate change. In chapter after chapter, we meet remarkable growers who have lost everything to drought, freak frosts, floods and hurricanes, only to roll up their sleeves, clear out the debris, and figure out how to lose less to the ferocities of nature in the next round. The authors cover thousands of miles, gathering these stories, their yen for a region-specific chile acting as their compass. In the Mexican borderlands, it was the wild chiltepin chile, but the pickings were slim. That year's crops had been hit with both drought and, in a neighboring region, 36 straight hours of rain. One farmer wept as he told them of climbing a palo verde tree and hanging on for dear life as the flood carried away his farm — chickens, dog, orange trees and all.
"The Three Gastronauts" arrived next in Northern Florida in search of the Datil chile, "the first chile of the first coast." In that neck of the woods, folks "hunt, fish, garden, propagate, and forage native plants with a certain gusto." This pepper is a special part of the local lore, having been brought with the settlers in the 1700s. Said one friend they met there, "Boys, if you can't remember my cooking when you get home, let me give you something that will burn it into your memories for good," The authors walked away with a vinegar absolutely aflame with Datil peppers, plus a time-honored recipe for a delicious local dish, Pilau (Pronounced pur-loo), that they share in the book.
They tasted habaneros of the Yucatán, followed the Tabasco trail of Louisiana, indulging in a three-hour Cajun feast. They searched for the lovely Fish Pepper in Maryland and the Beaver Dam pepper in Michigan.
Wenks. Yellow Hot. Rooster Pepper. Hinkelhatz. These rarities will only be kept alive by devoted seed savers who proudly remain their guardians. The book is a huge champion of biodiversity. And while they heard tales of loss, they also experienced a continual generosity and culinary pride.
Eventually, their spice odyssey brought them back to Kraft's home turf of New Mexico, where the most often heard local question is "Red, green or Christmas?"
When I asked him about the greatest adventure he had during the writing of this book, Kraft told me, "During the course of my research, my wife and I covered over 30,000 miles in my pick-up, driving the infamous Devil's Spine, camping on beaches, and eating anything you could put into a tortilla. But most memorable for me will be the conversations I shared with the farmers. They were so eager to talk about what they did, and how and why they did it."
The authors' goal was to get these stories out into the world, and surely they have succeeded. Part cautionary tale, part cookbook, part adventure story, Chasing Chiles is an engaging and educational gumbo of a book.
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