Agent Hash and the Sichuan Peppercorn

Agent Hash and the Sichuan Peppercorn


The USDA agent launched himself as “Mr. Hash.” I apprehensive I used to be having a flashback. I struggled to keep away from asking, “You’re  f#@*ing kidding me?”

It is a comply with as much as final month’s story Sorrow and Solace in Sichuan on 9/11.

I’d despatched 140 seed accessions to Jelitto Perennial Seeds, following a 2001 Sichuan amassing journey. The cargo was accredited by the Chinese language authorities. Jelitto cleaned the seeds, bought a German phytosanitary certificates, and despatched a particular few seed packets to me, together with one with cleaned seeds of peppercorn, bought from an open-air Sichuan market.  I sowed the seeds instantly. (My seeds didn’t germinate, however the seed professionals in Germany succeeded, as ever.)

I had turn out to be keen on Sichuan food flavored with the tongue tingling, fiery-tasting prickly-ash tree, Zanthoxylum simulans. I’d additionally developed the long-lasting impression that each small Sichuan city smelled like stir-fried peppercorn and diesel exhaust.

Jelitto had labeled the packet with the widespread title, and although the Latin title is required, it mistakenly handed USDA inspection.

Authentic Jelitto-grown Sichuan peppercorn from 2001 seed assortment. Georg Uebelhart pictures.

Every week or two after the seeds arrived in Louisville, I bought a shock go to from a brand new agent of the native USDA workplace. Jelitto was on good phrases with the USDA. We didn’t inventory any seed, and performed by the foundations, however I puzzled on the time if the USDA thought our one-person workplace, advertising and marketing over 3000 kinds of perennial seeds throughout North America, seemed suspicious.

The USDA agent launched himself as Agent Hash.

I apprehensive I used to be having a flashback. I struggled to keep away from asking, “You’re f#@*ing kidding me?” I vaguely recall assembly an incarnation of Mr. Hash on the Atlanta Pop Competition on July 4th, 1970. Jimi Hendrix was about to return on stage. My reminiscence is fuzzy, although I bear in mind a sea of tie-dye.

There was no hidden stash for Agent Hash and, earlier than he left, he advised me proudly that he’d confiscated 50 LBS of Sichuan peppercorns in Louisville’s Asian markets earlier within the day. I used to be confused. I requested Agent Hash what the issue was with Sichaun peppercorns. He mentioned sternly that it was within the citrus (Rutaceae) household.

I had presumed wrongly that the peppercorn was within the lethal nightshade (Solanaceae) household with tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, scorching peppers and eggplants. The Sichuan peppercorns have been banned from entry into the U.S. due to legit considerations about citrus canker being unfold to oranges, lemons, limes, and so on. 

Poivre du Sichuan

I advised Mr. Hash how a lot I cherished Sichuan peppercorns. I adopted him out the door and, like a curious boy, requested if I might see the confiscated items from the raid. He popped open the trunk and I felt like I used to be watching the tip to an episode of America’s Most Needed.

Agent Hash calmly assured me that the Asian markets could be restocked the subsequent week within the persevering with culinary cat and mouse recreation.

For the subsequent three years, till the ban was lifted, I pleaded in Chinese language eating places for my stir fry to be flavored with hua jiao (the Chinese language title). My query all the time raised a pink flag. Kitchen doorways opened and eyes would seem, and I used to be advised the Sichuan spice was not out there. The reply was all the time the identical—until I used to be with Asian buddies.

I might have been Agent Hash in disguise.

The Feds finally lifted the peppercorn ban in 2004, when it turned clear they have been combating a dropping battle. They supplied a repair: the seed pods could possibly be handled by exporters for 20 minutes at 140 levels in an effort to eradicate any probability of citrus canker.

I’m working up a listing of vegetable, annual and perennial flowers to sow early subsequent yr. I’ve already sown seeds of chokeberry and bottlebrush buckeye.  I sowed them in beds open air. One yr I want to attempt rising seeds of the Sichuan peppercorn once more and in addition the American relative—toothache tree— Zanthoxylum  americanum.

If I succeed, I’ll fortunately share my end-of-the alphabet, botanic booty with Mr. Hash, or a cooked meal, however I haven’t seen him since.

Along with Zanthoxylum germination fantasies, I now get pleasure from cooking with Sichuan peppercorns.

Are you tempted?

You must sow seeds of Zanthoxylum open air within the fall to permit a heat interval, adopted by the pure temperature rhythms of the chilly winter to interrupt down germination inhibitors. If you happen to’re fortunate, germination might proceed as spring is rolled out.

You could find cooking recipes on-line, however I wing it with my stir fry, lending it a little bit of southern aptitude. Throw peppercorns into a combination with olive oil and minced garlic, then add a vegetable medley of inexperienced beans, okra, corn, bell peppers, sun-dried tomato bruschetta plus items of cooked rooster or no matter else involves thoughts. Contact it up with black pepper, salt, cumin, and turmeric, then smother a plate of untamed rice with the stir fry.

You’re nonetheless not satisfied?

Belief me on this subsequent one.  

I’ve bought an addictive various: Peanuts flavored with Sichuan peppercorns.

Inform your folks you heard it first on the Backyard Rant.

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