Southern Pepper Sauce: The pinch of heat that spices up Cajun dishes

Ornamental peppers are one of many varieties used in Southern Sauce.

In alluring, eye-catching colors of red, orange, yellow and green, the peppers swim in vinegar in a jar resting on many tables in the South as a beloved condiment.

Southern Pepper Sauce is still a longtime favored addition to food providing that pinch of heat to many classically southern dishes from white beans and rice to turnip greens to black-eyed peas. Some even add it to their BBQ sauce.

“The peppers that I usually pickle are any of your hot peppers,” said Jamie Hue of Des Allemands.

The recipe is simple.

In many cases, it’s little more than vinegar, salt and peppers although some creative cooks embellish it with olive oil for an extra spicy effect. It continues as part of the Cajun heritage and passion for some sweet heat.

Hue said a lot of people who make the sauce typically use ornamental peppers, which are brilliantly colored and stand out beautifully in the jar.

The peppers come from her family farm. But she also sells the plants at St. Gertrude Catholic Church’s Catfish Festival as a fundraiser.

“One of the most popular things I do is sell the plants to help the church,” Hue said. “People want to do their own pepper vinegars and they just like it so much around here.”

They want the hot peppers, she said.

Hue and Joan Robbins of Hahnville say locals also typically add it to their most Cajun dishes like red beans and rice, gumbos and even in their soups.

Last year, the two both sold the pepper vinegars at the German Coast Farmers’ Market.

“People would come up and look at them and say, ‘I remember when my mom and dad did this.’” Hue said. Visitors recalled how it was typically in the household and a regular addition to red beans and rice.

At the market, some bought the sauce for nostalgia, she said. But many more bought it because they were going to use it in their food.

“People like that little extra heat in their stuff, but don’t necessarily want to make it,” Hue said.

As a heat indicator, she observed the redder the peppers the better the her sauce sells at the Farmers Market. They apparently associate heat with red.

Robbins, who also sells pickled peppers, said her vinegars sell at the market.

“You’ve got to like hot to start with,” she said. “Those who like it, eat it right out of the jar like candy and others use it as a sandwich condiment.”

Canning foods has become an art today although it reaches far back in Robbins’ background and born of necessity. What’s on the farm becomes products sold at the market to avoid wasting the vegetables, she said.

And among them are peppers, which are prolific growers. The Southern Sauce is one of those products that helps make the most use of food. Robbins’ sauce actually includes whatever peppers are available in the fields, which can include the fiery Chinese pepper.

Robbins also makes a popular chow chow based on an old family recipe with green tomatoes in a mustard base, as well as a seasoned olive oil with rosemary, garlic and a pepper.

“I got into preserving things when I was really young,” she said. “There were 11 of us in our family and the way we survived was prepared stuff in season to eat out of season. In summer time, we canned tomatoes, figs, blackberries or plums. Whatever was in season like corn and green beans we preserved in jars. I continued doing that even today, but there is not a necessity for doing it. I just like doing it.”

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