It is hard to believe but this weekend will mark the 20th anniversary of the world’s largest hot sauce festival here in Austin, Texas. The festival originally started as a contest between the cities of Austin and San Antonio but after Austin salsa makers swept the awards a couple of years in a row, the competition settled in Austin permanently and has grown larger every year. The 20th Annual ‘Austin Chronicle’ Hot Sauce Festival, is presented by Capital Area Food Bank of Texas and takes place this Sunday, Aug. 29 from 11am-5:30pm Waterloo Park at 12th and Trinity. Organized and run with incredible precision by my friend Elizabeth Derczo the festival is one of the most fun and unique in the world! Entry to the festivities is in the form of three nonperishable food items that will be donated to the Food Bank. A very cheap price for a very good time and it all goes for a fantastic cause!
There are three levels of competition individual(homemade), restaurants, and commercial bottlers in three categories, RED, GREEN and SPECIAL VARIETY. I entered the individual (homemade), category twenty years ago and have made nearly every contest since then along with a large number of other enthusiasts including my friends Ted Fick (who makes an incredibly complex and delicious salsa of slow roasted and smoked ingredients) and J.P. Hayes, creator of Sgt. Pepper’s salsas and hot sauces and partner at Tears of Joy Hot Sauces! As a multiple entry competitor I have not been all that consistent in my success. I have a salsa I have made every Christmas since meeting my wife and I have entered into the individual RED category numerous times but as far as I can tell have never even made it past initial testing. Now I do not mean to boast but this particular salsa is very good but also very different. Every Christmas a large number of people clamor for my attention to see if they are on the “list”. Recently it was pointed out that my salsa (though red) was not really a traditional red salsa. Made with Piloncillo, it has a marked sweet taste that blends well with the peppers, tomatos and other “secret” ingredients which many people crave almost to the point of obsession however; it appears that the salsa is “politically incorrect” for the RED category. With that in mind I am changing the entry to Special Variety.
In the past my only success has been in Special Variety with a fresh peach/red pepper salsa developed by my daughter Mattie and me in 2007. That year we received an honorable mention for the new concoction. The next year 2008 we moved up and placed 2nd in the Special Variety with a slightly tweaked version of the same salsa. 2009 yielded nothing in any of the categories and I heard later that the judges were tired of fruit salsas (rumors, ideas and conjecture are rampant every year). Of course this begs the fact that there are hundreds of entries every year with just as many variations of taste, consistency and yes the ubiquitous HEAT! I’ve written about the heat factor in the past when I realized that though I like it hot, Pain is not a flavor ! Now I am a person who like its hotter than most so we have to utilize the “Goldilocks Heat Assessment” method in our home. By that I mean we have three categories of testers; my wife (mild) our daughter Mattie (medium) and me along with our son Morgan (HOT!). Again, I do like some heat but it is very subjective and if it ever becomes truly painful then the experience becomes one of misery and if you’ve ever severely burned your taste buds it ruins tasting just about anything for awhile. With that in mind always beware and try “just a little” before diving in and scooping shovelfuls! If you DO over indulge here is something that can “help” quench the heat !
Well…I better get busy on my hot sauce entries; I have some excellent peaches for my peach/red pepper salsa and my old standby “Hot, Sweet & Righteous” is already bottled and ready to go. I have no idea how the contest will turn out and it would be impossible to even hazard a guess because there are so many variables. If you get a chance, whip up a batch of your own and head over Sunday to enter. Remember there will be hundreds of entries and the judges tastes are subjective and change every year so what the heck…EVERYBODY has a chance to win and a good time will be had by all! I look forward to seeing you there and enjoying yet another way we are living the good life in Austin Texas!
SPECIAL THANKS to my friend and fellow Activerain blogger, Craig Rutman for fixing this picture! I was so excited that I held it up backwards when my wife took the photo !