As if suffering through the hottest summer on record here in Austin, Texas was not enough, Sunday marks the 21st annual ‘The Austin Chronicle’ Hot Sauce Festival! Now don’t get me wrong, I love this festival and truly it is the largest and most important hot sauce celebration and contest in the world. I just think it is ironic that there is going to be extreme heat on all levels this coming Sunday. Like the hundreds of people who will enter the different categories and thousands who will show up to sample the myriad of hot sauces, I LOVE all kinds of hot sauce but as I’ve said before I firmly believe believe that pain is not a flavor! However, I do understand that there are varying degrees of the “pleasure spiked with pain” concept. Over the years I know that I have developed a “tolerance” for heat that has raised my personal level of acceptable heat far above many but I am sure still below that of some of the more notorious chili heads.
I’ve entered the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival nearly every year since 1991 when the event first started. Over the years I have entered multiple versions of hot sauce/salsa in all categories with very little success but always having a LOT of fun! For years I entered my favorite home version that I make every Christmas, the aptly named “Santa Salsa” which is a hit every year at home, my office and with numerous recipients who are on the Christmas list! It’s HOT, SWEET & RIGHTEOUS but is hard to define because one of the ingredients is Piloncillo, Mexican brown sugar and it also contains tomatoes so it does not fit in either the “RED” or “SPECIAL VARIETY” categories and though delicious has never found a following at the competition. The funny thing about this particular salsa is that it does pack a slow developing heat but just before it reaches pain is not a flavor stage…it stops!
In 2007, my daughter Mattie and I decided to try something different and because late season, Texas peaches are so popular around our house, they became the basis for something new. Our first year, we received an honorable mention for the Peach/Red Pepper Salsa (for some reason they no longer give out any awards other than 1,2,3). 2008 saw an improvement when the fresh peach salsa improved to 2nd place. The judges at the 2009 festival did not seem to be impressed with any of the fruit versions and consequently we did not make any showing at all. Last year Mattie left for college and I was on my own and tweaked the recipe and to our complete surprise, 2010 was the year we finally hit the jackpot and landed in 1st place for individual special variety. Though Mattie is again away at school this year, the Peach/Red Pepper salsa will always be “ours” as she helped with the original idea.
This year as always, The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival will be presented FREE to the public (with a donation of three healthy, non-perishable food items or a cash donation to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas), and will take place on Sunday, August 28th at Waterloo Park from 11:00am – 5:30pm. at Waterloo Park. There will be the same levels of competition: individuals (homemade), restaurants, and commercial bottlers. And yes, I will be entering two hot sauces in the special category (Peach/Red pepper and one with watermelon…yeah I know but this IS Austin and we love keeping it weird) and another attempt at the Red category. Honestly, I have a lot of fun in the kitchen doing this every year and have no idea how the hot sauces will fare in the competition. After all, nearly 400 entries are expected and tastes change every year and that kind of involvement is what makes it so much fun (not to mention the adventure of trying all those new hot sauces). Just remember to stay hydrated, try and get a whiff of the salsa before consuming and if it does develop in to some sort of agonizingly painful experience…it will pass…eventually! Come on out, help a good cause, have an exceedingly HOT time and above all, REMEMBER:
UPDATE: Click on the link for results of of my effort in this years competition! http://russelllewis.posterous.com/twice-is-nice-at-the-austinchronicle-hot-sauc