Of pepper sauce, sport peppers and pepper sport

The current management added a table service at the Highland Park Cafeteria. You still have to carry your own tray (unless, like many of the patrons, you’re too infirm to do this) but then a solicitous person will stop by and ask you if you want ice tea refills and “can I bring you any pepper sauce?”

Cajun Chef Tabasco Peppers

Cajun Chef pepper sauce

That last would be nonsense to a northerner, but it’s music to our ears down south. Pepper sauce isn’t Tabasco (we call that “tabasco”) or a less legendary sauce like Crystal or Louisiana (we call that “hot sauce”). “Pepper sauce” is, specifically, green peppers that have been cured in vinegar and packed in a little bottle with a shaker top. The peppers never leave the bottle; you shake the flavored vinegar onto collards, turnip greens, blackeyed peas and, if you’re me, fried items like okra and chicken. The vinegar adds tanginess to a mild base flavor and the pepper gives just the right amount of heat.

In my family we would buy whatever brand was at Tom Thumb (usually Trappey’s) and refill it with white vinegar when the liquid ran out. After a few refills the peppers would look wan and shriveled and it would be time for a new bottle. When I sat down to write this post it occurred to me that probably isn’t a best practice; aren’t there other ingredients that add flavor complexity to a newly opened batch? Taste test time!

I compared a well-used bottle and brand new bottle of the same brand, Cajun Chef (that’s what they now serve at HPC) and there definitely is a difference. The newer pepper sauce is saltier and has a vegetal muskiness that’s missing from the well-used bottles. From now on my policy will be 2 refills then out.

Now as to sport peppers. The last time I was at HPC the sauce was actually “Sport Peppers” not “Tabasco Peppers” though it tasted the same. The chiles looked like tabascos but a bit bigger. Roadfood.com, not surprisingly, has a very long thread spanning many years on what sport peppers are and are not. It’s wonderful to see how passionate people can completely disregard solid botanical evidence in the post just above theirs.

Various folks allege that sport peppers are a/just bigger tabascos b/serranos c/pepperoncinis Italian style d/a specific variety called “capsicum annuum” or d/a cultivar of capsicum annuum. At least some of these folks are intentionally talking out their bunghole, and that’s when the sport comes in.

I am going to cast my vote for a/ and d/, and agree with the poster who says “sport” means they are a sport or offshoot of tabascos vs. a pepper served at a sporting event (yes, others say that). Anyone who has had a hot pepper lose its heat because it’s planted near a bell pepper plant in the garden knows how easily this can happen. And capsicum annuum turns out to be the entire happy family of capsicum peppers; they even have their own website.

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