By Allan Persinger
For the past couple of years, I have been growing vegetables in a rented garden lot here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I began gardening when I was around six years old and had been an avid reader of various non-traditional farming classics for a long time, when I discovered Natural Agriculture. The philosophy of seed and soil adaptation, composting, and not using any chemicals or fertilizers made total sense to me. Also gardening with the environment gives a sense of oneness or awareness with and of the location that is incredibly peaceful and spiritually uplifting.
My first year was not as successful as I dreamt it would be. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, in a rental garden spot, it is impossible to know what the previous gardeners did, what they grew, how they grew their produce, and how much, if any, chemicals or fertilizers they used. Two, the garden plows twice a year, so the soil from neighboring plots moves a small amount each time the lot is plowed into my garden while mine is also moving a little into theirs. Three, because of my busy work schedule I didn’t have enough time to spend on the garden as it needed.
However, I saved seeds and replanted the following year. The results were better. For example, that first year I harvest very few okra pods and the plants were spindly. The following year, the plants looked healthier and the harvest more than doubled. Also, the taste improved.
There is one crop, however, that has thrived from day one and that is the chili pepper. I have grown cayenne, jalapenos, and Hungarian wax peppers. The plants produce more peppers than I can eat or give away to fellow spice lovers, who look quite appreciative when they receive fresh hot chilies.
This year instead of pickling or drying the extra chilies, I decided to make my own hot sauce. First of all, it is practically impossible to purchase a decent organic hot sauce from a co-op or store. I do not understand why chilies need to be grown with conventional methods. I have found that they don’t need any type of pest control whatsoever. Nothing eats them: no bugs, no rabbits, and no deer. Secondly, raising food teaches how terrible wasting food is. One article in The Atlanticmagazine reports that up to 50% of all food grown in the United States is thrown away, which shows a lack of gratitude towards our farmers and the earth itself. Also, filling the landfill with food waste releases a lot of methane, which is contributing to global climate change. So, instead of wasting any of the crops I was growing, I decided to make my own hot sauces; thereby expressing my gratitude towards the soil and at the same time being more environmentally friendly.
As many as the ingredients as possible came out of my garden: onion, tomatoes, and chilies. I made two different types of sauce, a red and a green one, which when combined made a little over a gallon. For the red hot sauce, I grilled garlic, onion, ripe tomatoes (I used those which had blemishes from bird pecks or small rabbit nibbles by cutting away the bad spots), cherry tomatoes, ripe Hungarian wax peppers, and ripe jalapenos. After the chilies had a few black spots, I placed everything in a large pan along with organic apple cider vinegar, organic lemon juice, salt, and a little organic sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes. After simmering the ingredients for about a half hour, I pureed everything in small batches in a blender and then poured the hot sauce in sterilized glass bottles, which I then sealed and placed in boiling water in order to safely can and store the sauce. For the green hot sauce, I did not grill anything and used green tomatoes, green chilies, organic lime juice instead of lemon juice, and added some basil and cilantro from my garden.
The first thing I notice when using my own hot sauce is the flavor, followed very closely by the heat. These sauces are as hot or even hotter than many of the habanero sauces I have purchased at the store. Even more importantly, they taste healthy. Not only do they have a deep flavor, there is something refreshing about them that makes the food sing. Then too, my fellow hot sauce aficionados have told me how much they like using the sauces along with the types of food they like to use them on. Finally, there is something wonderful about looking out the window on a cold winter day when the only thing growing in Wisconsin is icicles while enjoying the roasted heat of summer.