It was early in my medical career when I first encountered the diabolical burn of the chilli pepper.
A Greek man ferried, carried, hurried his screaming child down the driveway of our home to the side door that admitted patients to Dad’s consulting room. The child’s round cheeks were red, his eyes streamed, his left upper and lower eyelids were scarlet. The father’s distress equalled the child’s: grief and fear contended in his broken speech: Is doctor house? Too much paining! My son, he burn… Terrified – I was fourteen, and although self-apprenticed to Dad, I knew I was out of my depth – I opened the door and stammered over my retreating shoulder, Doctor will come soon, I’ll tell Mum. The man wept, rocked his child, rocked himself, his tears fell, mixing with his son’s.
Mum hurried and said kind, calming things. She fetched damp cloths and wiped the boy’s eyelids and his lips, swollen like plums. Afterwards Doctor did come, gave an injection and peace returned.
Mum explained, The boy thought the red chilli pepper was some sort of lolly. When it burned his lips he cried. Then he wiped his left eye with his chilli hand. He must have rubbed the right eye with the other.
All that happened a long time ago. I was reminded of it today as I peeled and chopped mango for a lime and mango fruit salad. I sucked a lot of mango pips, I slurped the juicy flesh from mango peelings. And my fingers and palms began to tingle. My lips tingled too. Soon tingle turned to burn. I looked at my fingers, all red and juicy and I remembered the day I prepared mango mousse for twelve. That day a dozen mangoes bled onto my lips and hands; and today my skin remembered. I had disregarded the warning at the end of the recipe to protect my skin with rubber gloves. The recipe closed with the words, both the mango and the chilli originate in Latin America. They are botanically close.
The word recipe is one a doctor uses with every prescription: the large R stands for the instruction to the compounding pharmacist, Recipe – please make up the following recipe. I did some doctoring today as well as some cooking. I claim to be a bold cook, not a good one. My family are bold eaters and candid critics of my cooking, just as they are of my healing. They will tell me after dinner what they think of my recipe.