It’s Friday! Things got heated last weekend
By Peggy Walker, R.D.
Spring’s coming. I felt it! DW and I took a road trip last week South. It was raining. I left wearing a scarf, socks and boots, and raincoat. The raincoat came off long before a stop at Vaiden. And before we left Jackson, the scarf was gone and I had opened my car window as I waited for DW. The sun was warming things up.
By the time we arrived in Hattiesburg, I was wearing sunglasses and the A/C was on. Thankfully I had packed a pair of shoes because the socks and boots came off before lunch. The remainder of the day was warm and lovely and without any more rain.
Hot. Next morning, temps were in the upper 60s. I put on sandals (good thinking on my part) and hung the unneeded raincoat in the garment bag. The sun was shining.
DW spotted the MSU baseball coach out for a morning run around the hotel. It was looking like another beautiful February day down south. We drove on.
Hotter. The mercury rose to a wonderful 85 degrees as we sat in James’ Lafayette backyard (in the shade) and chatted comfortably as we waited for Kathleen and the girls to get home from school.
It was easy to forget those artic temps that had recently chilled us all to the bone from here to there when the day at hand was so pleasant.
As usual we had stopped at the Louisiana welcome center on the way in. (Welcome centers are always clean, staffed, and safe.) DW went in for a map and we left with a suggestion to visit to the TABASCO® Factory. Turns out it was just a mere 30 minutes down the road from James’ home.
So, Saturday we went to Avery Island. Wow, I had never thought about how nor how much of the famous hot pepper sauce was produced. We did it all: the factory tour, lunch, country store, and Jungle garden tour. And we were all impressed.
Hottest. Tons of red peppers are grown, harvested, mashed, stored, stirred, bottled, and shipped from Avery Island. As their brochure says, “Avery Island is the home of the word-famous TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce.
It’s manufactured by the McIlenny Company on the very site that it was invented in 1868 by Edmund McIlenny and continues to be owned and operated by his descendants.” Worth a trip for sure.
Ed was a successful banker who realized that the Civil War was going to bring economic ruin to the Confederate states, so he left banking, acquired some Mexican pepper seeds, headed to low ground, developed a recipe and started making pepper sauce.
Today there’s a TOBASCO® museum full of interesting memorabilia and very user friendly. In the greenhouse you can see the famous pepper plants and the baton rouge, the red stick used to help pickers determine when peppers are at their prime.
After harvest the peppers are mashed and stored in oak barrels. Each barrel is covered with locally mined salt to keep impurities out and then aged for 3 years in the warehouse. We saw them, lined up and stacked 6 high. Thousands of them.
Inside the factory you see where the aged sauce is made, tested, bottled, and labeled. The recipe is simple: pepper mash, vinegar, salt and water and another 3 weeks of stirring. You can smell it happening.
Thousands of bottles are filled every day and labels affixed in languages from all around the world. Seems everyone loves hot sauce. And there are samples to try.
The chipotle pepper sauce mixed with ranch dressing was so very good. And the raspberry chipotle slightly smoky flavored ice cream was surprisingly delicious.
Not to mention the Cajun sampler for lunch: shrimp Etouffée, red beans and rice, and jambalaya. Plus, there were plenty of bottles of all the famous hot sauce flavors on every table, for every taste.
Interesting too that there is no waste. Pepper skins, seeds, and membrane are removed from the mash, dehydrated and sold for flavorings added to tons of other foods like canned chili, steak sauce, spam, seasonings, Cheeze Its, ketchup, jelly, and on and on. Worn out barrels are sold…whole or half… or when beyond repair, are chipped up, bagged and sold for use in smokers. We bought a bag to try. Cooking classes are also offered.
The hot sauce is good, you know that, but the history is good, too. TOBASCO® sauce has been a common ingredient among presidents, movie stars, singers, and the rich and famous over the past 150 years. It has flavored our southern history as well as our red beans and rice.
But there’s more to TOBASCO® than hot pepper sauce. The tour continued in the Jungle garden, Ed’s beautifully preserved nature sanctuary of live oaks, flowers, birds, and gators. So, hold that thought. In the meantime, if spring is slow in coming, just add a dash or two of TOBASCO® sauce to heat things up!