City Sustainability - Aug 2, 2011

00:00 August 02, 2011
By: 2Fik
learning to sweat

I grew up in California. Not just California, but temperate, coastal, California where the summer's highs will reach into the '80s, but only for brief stretches because it takes too much effort for the sun to burn through the summer fog that typically enshrouds the Northern Coast of California.

So moving to the South, and liking it, seemed a stretch at first. The sun! The rain! The humidity! Gradually, I learned to sweat. In a dry environment, you only sweat when you exercise. In fact, people in dry environments don't ever sweat, they politely and inconspicuously perspire. So gardening during my first summer in New Orleans was a shock to me when it involved endless changes of clothes throughout the day. Beekeeping in the humidity was an even bigger shock. After layering on the bee suit over my pants and clothes and building a fire in the metal smoker to combat the tens of thousands of angry, stinging insects that I was trying to poach honey from, it was a wonder I didn't pass out from fluid loss—it was like being in my own personal greenhouse.

I'm still learning to sweat, but now that I've embraced this, I enjoy summer gardening, and in August, I look forward to the bounty of hot peppers that come my way from the garden. Hot peppers are something I generally can't even give away, but don't really need to because I love to eat them and grow them. In May and June, I plant a mini pepper plantation with Serranos, Poblanos, Birdeye (a Louisiana heirloom), and Tobasco peppers, and then I virtually ignore them. Even with this dry early summer, they persevered and are now stately plants burdened with lovely, glossy fruits.

Peppers seem to thrive on neglect (as long as you have six hours of sun and good soil) and they even do well in containers. Luckily for us in South Louisiana, we have a second pepper season, so if you didn't plant any in May and June, you can still plant now for a harvest of October peppers. Look for a good variety of plants from Mizell Farms at the Tuesday and Saturday farmer's markets, along with Harold's in the Bywater.

With my current harvest, I make hot sauce when I get tired of roasting peppers in ol ive oil in the oven and add them to any dish that needs a little kick. I don't just make hot sauce, but I make HOT sauce so hot that a few wayward drops in some homemade pad Thai once ruined dinner for some spice intolerant guests.

So, don't bring it out for company unless they're heat savvy and willing to sweat a little, but you can vary your brew to include milder peppers if you must.

Here's what I do for Crystal or Tobascostyle hot sauce:

HOME-MADE HOT SAUCE

1. Gather a pint of hot peppers, or a mix of hot and mild, all at the same red stage of ripeness (if you want an earthy green hot sauce, use green peppers before they're fully ripe—Jalapenos are great).

2. Rinse peppers, chop the stems off, get rid of any bad spots, and drop them into the blender or food processor, using gloves. Core and clean out the seeds and ribs if you want to for a milder flavor, but I keep most of them in.

3. Add just enough white vinegar to cover the peppers, and add a handful of salt, then puree until smooth, using caution.

4. Pour the sauce into a pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Do not, at any time, lean over the steaming pot and get near the fumes (it is painful, I assure you).

5. Ladle the sauce into a clean jar or bottle and let cool. Cover with a cloth napkin and let the mixture sit at room temperature undisturbed for a few days, then pour off all but a thin layer of the vinegar and refrigerate. The hot sauce will keep for several months, and possibly longer, depending on how strong you make it. But for me, I like to start using the hot sauce right away, when it's still hot outside, just to make me sweat a little more.

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[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

Because of the hot climate, South Louisiana has two pepper seasons: Summer and early Fall. Plant now for an October harvest.

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