Tabasco advertisement from McClure's Magazine, November 1905, p. 172.
A friend recently returned from a tour of naval duty in Honduras. With him he brought back a few MRE (Meal Ready To Eat) kits to show his young daughters. Knowing my fascination with food, his wife shared some of the contents with me. Dehydrated catsup was one ingenious item. The kit also contained some predictable items such as freeze-dried meat, cookie or cake, salt, instant coffee, dry non-dairy coffee creamer, chewing gum, a tiny packet of bathroom tissue, etc. However, the most interesting item was an adorable one-eighth-of-an-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Although there are over 100 brands of commercially bottled pepper sauces available, McIlhenny's Tabasco reigns supreme as the world's favorite. The McIlhenny family of Avery Island, Louisiana first planted the red peppers for their beauty. Edmond McIlhenny had seen the peppers grown and used in the state of Tabasco, near Guatemala, when he fought in the Mexican War in 1846. In Tabasco a person put the peppers on his plate, ground them up with a spoon, and mixed the hot stuff with other foods.
By and by the McIlhennys experimented with the pretty peppers, creating a hot sauce made with the peppers, vinegar, and salt, then aged for over three years in oak barrels. When the Civil War came the McIlhenny plantation was destroyed, except for the seemingly unimportant pepper plants. The sauce made from these sultry beauties remade the family fortune. Commercial Tabasco sales were begun in 1868, and now, of course, this popular food "pepper-upper" can be found all over the globe.
If you have the opportunity to travel in Louisiana, tour the McIlhenny Plantation and watch them “pick, pickle, and pack peppers.” Then visit the lovely Avery Island bird sanctuary, where migratory birds flutter, and enjoy the lush beauty of the Jungle Gardens where 1,000 varieties of camellias bloom in the winter.
Tabasco is useful for enlivening eggs, soups, stews, Cajun/Creole dishes, and bloody Marys. And next time you are standing at your favorite raw oyster bar (be it Felix's or Acme in New Orleans, or wherever) mix up a devilishly hot sauce by combining catsup, a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and some Tabasco. Dip your quivering oyster in this bath and then let him slip down your esophagus. Heavenly!
Copyright © 1990–2005 Patricia B. Mitchell.