I am haunted by a hot sauce. Years ago, I worked in an organic grocery shop in Wales. One of our suppliers was a small scale chutney producer down the road, near Llandeilo. They made a deep, rich hot sauce that had a beautiful sweetness, which came from Medjool dates (dates I sold them from the shop). If you don’t know them, Medjool dates are those wonderful super-sweet fruits that taste like eating caramel. They’re amazing. In lots of hot sauces folk just add sugar, but the dates gave the required sweetness while adding a wonderful dark, rich flavour. I loved it. And when I moved away from Wales, back to Cornwall, I tried to make it myself. So far without success, but I’ve not given up…
It was this Welsh hot sauce that got me interested in growing my own chillies at home too. My favourite to grow is a cayenne type called Ring o’ Fire. I came across these in the organic grocery shop too, as we sold a range of seeds from Tamar Organics, and the chilli variety we sold was this Ring o’ Fire. The Ring o’ Fire variety showed me that chilli peppers can add great flavour as well as heat. They were hot (unpredictably hot, I found) but they had a really good and distinct taste. As I’ve experimented with different types I’ve always maintained Ring o’ Fire plants. As well as the favour, they are easy to grow, reliable, abundant, and they dry very nicely, so in good glut years I have had enough chillies to last a whole year.
This year, as well as the Ring o’ Fire, I’m growing orange habaneros for the first time, alongside an old variety of chilli pepper called Rocoto, from the Capsicum pubescens group, and another cayenne type called Cayennetta, which is an F1 hybrid that’s said to bear loads of lovely tasting fruit. As it was the cayenne type that got me into chilli growing I feel some loyalty to it and want to keep exploring it. I’m also keen to find some good, slightly earlier maturing chilli types to broaden the harvest season.
So that’s how I got here, growing chillies, drying chillies, eating chilli sauce and trying to make chilli sauce. I am haunted by that dark, rich, date-sweetened Welsh hot sauce and am in search of a new favourite. I should say, I’m looking for an edible sauce. What I really want to find are flavoursome hot sauces where the heat is part of the joy of the thing. I’m happy to be overwhelmed and transported by the heat, just so long as there’s a point to the sauce beyond pain. Cooking and eating are pleasures for me and this little chilli adventure is an indulgence.
In the sauce summaries below I give prices from the manufacturer’s website at the time of writing the review as well as a per litre price. The per litre price is only for the sake of direct price comparison - nowhere actually sells this stuff by the litre.
The sense I’m getting is that it is the capsicum chinense family - the habaneros - that are preferred for sauces. They are the most flavoursome, but obnoxiously they are also the hottest kinds of chillies. It’s here you find your Carolina Reaper and Ghost Pepper varieties, although the most popular kind of habanero is the one I’m growing this year - the orange habanero. I’m clearly going to have to experiment with this in my own sauces in autumn.
So on these pages you’ll find everything I’m doing with chillies. You’ll find a set of bits on the year’s progress growing them and you’ll find a set of hot sauce reviews and recipes. Any questions, thoughts or recommendations, let me know...