Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There's Nothing Like a Pepper

My title today is borrowed from the new ad slogan for Dr Pepper, the quirky soft drink with the hard-to-define flavor that's been around since 1885. (Would it surprise you to learn that this wacky drink originated in Waco?)

At Sandhill, our distinctive line of food products includes a variety of condiments, including mustard, horseradish, tomatillo salsa, gooseberry chutney, mushroom ketchup, BBQ sauce, peach salsa, and hot pepper relish. October on the farm is Pepper Month and I spent the lion's share of today in our food processing kitchen, dicing peppers in preparation for a making a monster batch of pepper relish. I was cutting up hot peppers (serranos, cayennes, and Thai hots) as well as sweet ones, all of which get boiled down in a syrup of honey and vinegar to produce a sweet and spicy gooey red relish. This is one of our top selling condiments and I emptied four buckets of raw peppers to fill a five-gallon cooking pot. All of this will ultimately wind up in pint jars that we'll make available at $6 a pop this weekend, when we attend our biggest fair of the year—the Hannibal Historic Folklife Festival.

This year is the 34h annual rendition of the festival, and we were there back in 1977 when Chris Vincent first put this gig together for the Hannibal Arts Council. It's easy to remember the date because that was our first year producing sorghum.

In the early years, they held this event in early November, and that led to some seriously challenging weather conditions. (I recall trying to break a $100 bill one time when a determined customer wanted to buy a jar of horseradish in the sleet. He was about the only person in the streets, and my hands were so cold I could hardly make change.) Now, fortunately, they've bumped the dates up to the third weekend in Oct, when there's a much better chance of clement weather in the land of Clemens.

The fair is held in the historic district, down by river. Three blocks are barricaded off from vehicle traffic and vendors are only allowed to offer products that could have been manufactured circa 1900. This eliminates all of the plastic drek cranked out inexpensively in Third World sweatshops specifically for the American fair market. Whew!

It's one of my favorite weekends of the year, and we're hoping that many the folks strolling down Main St this Saturday and Sunday come to the conclusion that there's nothing like Sandhill Pepper Relish.

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