After the Civil War, the crop harvests in my homeland of the American South were paltry. As a result, the people of the region had a bland and monotonous diet. To give the Southern table a little more flavor & spice, Edmund McIlhenny of New Iberia, Louisiana cooked up a hot sauce recipe from Capsicum frutescens peppers which was packaged in old cologne bottles made in a New Orleans glass factory.
The sauce was well-received by Southern cooks because it gave their tables more flavor & excitement. Today, Tabasco is not only a staple in Southern meals, but is also seen on tables throughout the world.
Since the sauce’s beginnings, the McIlhenny family hand selects each year some of the finest peppers they grow for Tabasco sauce on Avery Island, Louisiana for their superior robustness, color and texture. These special peppers are then put in white oak barrels, mixed together with a touch of Avery Island salt and aged for a few years.
Sometimes, a bit of this pepper mash is left to age a little longer and is then blended with premium white wine vinegar. When it’s just right, Tabasco strains and bottles it for McIlhenny family members and close family friends. Occasionally they make available a limited edition of this full-bodied sauce and specially package it for the public to taste.
The McIlhenny Tabasco Family Reserve sauce is about 5 times more expensive at $25 than the classic 5 oz. bottle with a price tag around $5. But I think it’s still a small price to pay for shaking on the McIlhenny family secret.