I am the proud owner of a dirty, mustard yellow Hamilton Beach Scovill blender circa your grandma’s house, early 80’s. She smokes up and makes the sound of a truck in desperate need of a new transmission if I run her on anything past stir. My wife is convinced that she’s possessed and this tenement is going down in flames if I push her too far. I told her the sparks were just how she communicated her love to us and that she’s so thankful about still being useful to us, even after all these years. I’m not sure I know how to explain to anyone that I just can’t quit this old girl.
Like most New Yorkers, we’ve developed some creative habits around our space-challenged kitchen. We seem to fall into extreme food patterns like doing takeout for so long that we forget the kitchen exists. Or like this last Spring when we went on a focused if not misguided mission to experiment with a single ingredient. I will admit our gluten-free flour baking stint did produce several rather interesting sand-flavored biscuit recipes. We did it for science.
In the summer I decided to revive a new-ish project I began the year before that yielded some surprisingly successful results. I called it The Hot Sauce Factory, and what I learned from the previous year was that the hot sauce factory would need my ugly little blender as much as she needed the job.
S pice is serious business at our house. The wife pretty much keeps peppers in a satchel around her neck in the off chance that an unexpected meal is in her future where she won’t have access to any spicy accoutrement. I was born in the South where hot sauce is actually a food group. I knew as I wandered up to Union Square Market this year, I’d be able to assess the available pepper batches and make some decisions about whether or not The Hot Sauce Factory would be in commission.
I could almost sense their presence from down the block. How could I not feel energy from a plant with the power to move blood, sweat and bowels? So few things in life have such natural potency. Eventually I came upon them.. Fatalii, Scotch Bonnet, Cherry Bomb, Habanero… enough pepper varieties to make an arsenal of military-grade pepper spray that could take down an army. All of them had come in from ever-fruitful Eckerton Hill Farms in Pennsylvania. I carefully gathered my soldiers for this year and threw them into the crisper when I got home, committed to dealing with them after going through some fermentation books I’d borrowed from a friend.
Last year’s Scotch Bonnet batch had been a resounding success. I’d brainstormed with a fellow Southerner on the type of pepper and the details of the recipe and we’d made our first ever batch of hot sauce. We’d found some tiny condiment bottles and handed them out to friends — thrilled with the gift but perhaps a little disappointed with the size (that’s what she said?) I tried to compare our offering to saffron or truffles, such awesomeness could not just be duplicated and divvied out with total abandon. We faced the the reality was that we were still in our experimentation phase and hadn’t made enough to last through the year. This time, I knew I had to be more prepared.
The one thing I realized quickly about preparing hot sauce was the protective gear involved. It really did start to feel like I was in a lab at the CDC handling some new virus that had come in on the back of monkey hiding in a Pacific shipping container. I’d made due with a pair of old glasses, some fresh cleaning gloves, and a bandana around my mouth and nose. So really I just looked more like a fashion-challenged gang banger than a highly-trained disease containment specialist.
I blended, I mixed, I stirred. My wife screamed from the bedroom as she caught an unexpected wift (Not to worry, I found her hiding safely in the closet with a wet towel around her head. She said it was fine, kind of like practicing for a CIA training mission.) We heard the neighbors coughing from their adjacent apartments, unknowingly breathing in the steaming witch’s brew emanating from The Hot Sauce Factory.
With the completion of each blend, I had to carefully transfer the sauce into each jar. Old, ugly blender was excellent in this capacity. She tipped her little mouth over theirs in a loving kiss, giving over the precious elixir. She needed no protective gear or wet towel. She was impervious to the truly formidable materials in her belly. It was just another day on the job for the old girl. With the final transfer completed, I cleaned her up and put her back in her corner on the shelf, where she’d wait for another day where she could come down and prove that she belonged here in our forgotten little kitchen.