I travel, a lot including overseas, and often end up in so-so eateries with rather bland food. Which is why I carry a small TSA airline-acceptable bottle of my favorite spicy sauce to add – just in case.
Beautiful Red, Yellow, and Orange peppers
So while on a recent trip to south Louisiana Cajun country, visiting subtropical banana- and satsuma-filled gardens scattered along bayous and nestled amidst vast expanses of sugar cane, I made a side trip from quaint New Iberia to Avery Island. It’s a huge ancient salt dome rising from the swamps, and home of Jungle Gardens botanical wonderland and the world-famous McIlhenny’s Tabasco® pepper plantation.
What started in 1868 as a small plot of peppers turned into fiery sauce bottled as gifts in used perfume bottles, is now a 5th-generation family business with products available in nearly 200 countries and territories, aboard space ships, and included in military ready-to-eat meals. For spicy solace during simple meals I often turn to the little bottle I’ve carried in my shoulder bag across five continents.
In fact, Tabasco has been honored with a crest from the Queen of England – Britain’s only official hot sauce!
Though I’m a lover of spicy vindaloo from the Indian subcontinent, and hot Thai dishes, the faux heat doesn’t bother me, at least not for long; I’ve eaten entire Habaneros, and grown the off-the-Scoville charts Scorpion and Naga Jolokia peppers. Still, my taste tends towards milder hot peppers with distinct flavors.
Oh, and after the initial heat fades I enjoy basking in the warm endorphin afterglow – old guy’s gotta get his kicks naturally and legally, right?
But my all-time favorite condiment, which again I carry with me overseas, remains the regular old Tabasco® Red Sauce, still made with the original recipe of red-ripe peppers handpicked using a red-painted stick as a guide for perfection, ground into mash, sealed with a little salt in white oak barrels previously used for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, aged for three years, and finally diluted with high-quality vinegar.
Touring the McIlhennys’ newly-expanded plant includes a walk through pepper greenhouses, the barrel warehouse, mash vats, bottling facilities, and the country store where I tasted all the different sauce varieties.
They produce several sauces using different spices and peppers, including a surprisingly mild green but tasty Jalapeno sauce and a spicy but less-potent roasted pepper grilling baste. And they offer all sorts of Tabasco-infused products including Slim Jim snacks, chocolates, popcorn, nuts, olives, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire and other marinating sauces, pepper jelly, and of course the original Bloody Mary mix. I even tasted Tabasco ice cream, which was a real surprise because dairy products diffuse the pepper heat, leaving only a hint of spicy pepper flavor.
I’ve grown Tabasco peppers – beautiful, waist-high spreading ornamental plants topped with green, yellow, and red peppers. Makes my eyes water with fond anticipation.
But nothing beats the 3-year old whiskey barrel-aged sauce that comes directly from the family that started it all… which is why I carry it in my traveling shoulder bag everywhere I go.