Bread of Fire

I saw… The Holy Grail,

descend upon the shrine,

I saw the fiery face as of a child

That smote itself into the bread…

Tennyson, Idylls of the King, The Holy Grail

Bread king of the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, California, two years running, and for my trifecta I had a definitive plan: bake my crowning achievement—a personal Holy Grail that one else could ever achieve—collect another blue ribbon, then promptly retire from breadmaking while I was still on top.

Being raised in the south, I learned to eat spicy hot peppers and love them. All my life I’ve never been able to turn down thick slices of bread. Why not combine my two favorite food groups—fire and flour?

Well I did. My chef-d’oeuvre was to be a white bread with hot peppers, since one of my favorite pastimes is to eat habaneros fresh off the vine. But my wife suggested I avoid habaneros because she thought it best to not incinerate the tongues of the judges.

“That would get you a definite thumbs-down,” she advised, “would probably get you banned from entering anything in the fair ever again. Stick with  jalapenos.”

She had a point, and I almost took her advice. I avoided the habaneros (a Scoville heat unit of 150,000). But jalapenos rate only 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units. I wanted something with a little kick, so I opted for a combination of cayenne and red chili peppers (50,000 to 65,000 Scoville heat units).

I worked my dough like a pro, with my eyes on the prize. I let the dough rise, then I worked it some more. I placed it carefully in the oven, then ran my hands across my face and eyes to wipe away the sweat of a hot summer day.

I never saw the bread. The chili oil on my hands, mixed with salty sweat, swelled my eyes closed. For days I could not stop the blur of tears that failed to soothe the burning embers in my eyes. My wife had to drive me to the fair to deliver my entry.

I did receive my third blue ribbon. But I could not focus my eyes well enough to really see it until the next week.

I retired from breadmaking.

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