Friday, July 16, 2010

Top Ten Tools for Keeping Southern - 4. Texas Pete

Thus continues a somewhat regular series in ten parts highlighting some of the basic accoutrements of keeping Southern.

There’s hot sauce, and then there’s Texas Pete.

Hot sauce should be about more than heat. It should be about flavor, and Chicago-land is finally learning that when it comes to flavor, Texas Pete is king. Like Texas itself, the goodness comes from further east* – Texas Pete has been made by the Garner family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for generations. I am delighted that I no longer need my folks to bring a quart of it when they visit. You can now find it at Ultra Foods, Wal-mart Superstores, and the previously lauded Fresh Market. I even got a cute little sample bottle from a Texas Pete booth at the Taste of Chicago on the Fourth!

Like so much that's good about the South, Texas Pete is about keeping it simple, taking your time, and getting it just right. The ingredients are simple: peppers, vinegar, and salt. But the pepper mash is aged for up to three years, and the result is a delicious balance of flavor and heat that enhances rather than overpowering food. The Garner family still makes Texas Pete on the old homestead on Indiana Avenue (originally named for Garner kin in Indiana). We lived on Marvin Boulevard, just off Indiana Avenue when I was born, and we passed the factory most every day.

It's no surprise I discovered Texas Pete as a baby - there's a bottle on every restaurant table in North Carolina. As Mama tells it, I saw a bottle on the table at a restaurant and wouldn’t stop begging for it. So she finally put a couple of drops on a spoon and gave it to me. (Trust me, that wasn’t cruel – I was just that stubborn.) I promptly grabbed daddy’s glass of iced tea (which I hated until well into adulthood) and downed half of it. I came back up for air panting “More! More!” and have been enjoying Texas Pete ever since.

*Update - Mama corrected my version this weekend and informed me that it was actually Daddy who got tired of my begging and gave me a spoon with "more than a few drops" on it. Bless him! :)

Texas Pete is just plain good. Good in eggs, good in cheese grits, good on about anything. It makes the ultimate buffalo wings (they have a buffalo wing sauce, but for really great wings, go with the original Texas Pete). And I’ve recently learned that the best fried-chicken should be dipped in Texas Pete before being dredged in flour and fried. 

I’ve long thought that there’s not much of anything you can’t manage to eat if you put enough Texas Pete on it. Which means you might just want to take a bottle with you when you go...well, pretty much anywhere. Texas Pete is keeping Southern all over.

* Texas was founded by Tennessee. Sam Houston, Davy Crockett…they call Tennessee “the Volunteer State” because we volunteered to go found Texas, among other things.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Top Ten Tools for Keeping Southern - 3. Duke's Mayonnaise

Thus continues a somewhat regular series in ten parts highlighting some of the basic accoutrements of keeping Southern.

So what can’t you find in Chicago-land?

There’s no time of year keeping Southern doesn’t count, but when Summer’s heat and humidity strike, keeping Southern makes all the difference between misery and finding a way to relish the weather.

I live in an older home without air-conditioning, and there’s nothing like the 90 degree days with humidity climbing to get me craving Southern goodness. So here’s the first of a collection of ingredients I’ve been thrilled (and surprised) to find in Chicago-land.

From potato salad, to coleslaw, to pimento cheese, to BLTs, Southerners swear by Duke’s. Some of us will settle for Hellman’s if we’re forced to (though my grandma sure wouldn’t - she'd literally turn up her nose and sniff at anything but Duke's), but Duke’s wins out, hands down. If it's not homemade, it'd better be Duke's!

Duke’s is the ultimate real mayonnaise – all natural with no sweeteners. And that’s the important difference: no sugar. Don’t get me wrong, we Southerners like our sugar, just not in our mayonnaise (or potato salad or slaw or pimento cheese or BLTs…you get the picture). Great mayonnaise makes it all great. And not-so-great mayo makes it forgettable at best. Some of the best recipes are the simplest, but the ingredients have to be right. Slaw = cabbage, Duke's, cider vinegar, salt and pepper. BLT = whole grain bread, Duke's, quarter inch thick bacon, home-grown tomatoes, and lettuce. And maybe some pepper.  My mama's potato salad is a little more complicated, but not much. Everybody tries to cut corners with the ingredients and then complains that it doesn't taste like hers. Well, duh! When it's good, getting the details right matters, and Duke's is a very important detail.

Like so many of the best things, Duke’s is made in the Carolinas. I was delighted (and a bit stunned) to find it at Fresh Market (a southern gourmet grocery chain that also stocks Thomas Sauce, decent cornmeal, and the only store-made pimento cheese worth buying – no jalapenos, thank you very much). So all you Yankee mayo-lovers out there, go find some Duke's and get a taste for the Cadillac of mayonnaise.