Everyone who spends enough time in a farmer’s market has habits. Whether you know it or not, if you track your buying, you will see for which items you are “the sucker”. For me, I am no sucker for apples, tomatoes, strawberries or squash, which I associate with “sucker” produce, but I am a sucker for chilis. I love heat, but, embarrassingly, I love the colors that a variety of chilis bring to food as much as the burst of heat. After all, if it was heat that I was after, I could use dried red pepper flakes as a means to that end.
And, as typical for me, I hate throwing food away. Maybe not as much as my father or my mother-in-law, who both appear to have developed immunity to the ills that befall those who eat food far past its peak, but I still work hard to use every last scrap before it reaches the point of no return. It was July when I had overbought both cherry bomb chilis, which are fantastic if out of season now, and cherries. I had the best of intentions, but was leaving for rural Oklahoma the next day when I remembered that I had these items and I needed to either, bring them with, throw them away or use them. I had just bottled the ghost chili/habanero hot sauce and thought that cherry bomb hot sauce would make for a great condiment.
The cherry bombs are medium/hot (think jalapeno) and bright red. They are usually used for pickling, due to their thick, fleshy walls, but with a stack of them sitting next to the cherries, it became clear what had to be done. I was going to sweeten the cherry bomb hot sauce with cherries. In theory, it made sense only in color and in name, but it was worth trying as the other options were to toss them or to have a massive eat-up. I have been to Door County in Wisconsin too many times to not know the trappings of kitschy shops selling everything from wine to salsa packed with cherries. Everything tastes the same and it all tastes like NyQuil. I needed to make this not taste like that.
This is where the slightly painful part took shape. Painful for two reasons, first the process… I pureed all of the chilis, then began adding cherries one at a time, weighing after each puree, to make sure that I could taste sweetness, but not too much. Looking back, it would have made sense to simply add a few cherries, then keep adding chilis until it was right, but both ways around the circle get you to the same point. It was when I reached nearly equal weights when I felt it was right. If you would have asked me previously, I would have thought that I would have needed two parts chilis for each part of cherries, but the chilis pack a punch. Next, the pain of tasting even medium chilis with that frequency is no joke, especially with all seeds and ribs intact when pureed. Let’s just say I was red-cheeked.
Finally settling on a ratio, I then salted the puree and put it up, uncovered, to ferment for 45 days. The cherry added a good amount of natural sugar to the mixture and with those sugars added some complex funkiness to the fermented mixture. As the puree fermented, I had also finished a batch of vinegar made from New Glarus Belgian Red Beer, which on the label states “Made with real Wisconsin Cherries”. It only made sense to finish the hot sauce with this vinegar and I had a good bit of it to boot.
After another 2 weeks steeping in the vinegar, I strained the entire bit through an old conical strainer stolen from my parents basement (I believe that the strainer was stolen by my father from his mother sometime in the early 1970s, so its a nice thievery-based heirloom). The first thing that I noticed about the hot sauce was the color. It was a brilliant red, but the smell was amazing. As mentioned above, I was scared to death of the cloying sweetness in novelty antique shop cherry foodstuffs, but this hot sauce was devoid of any of that. There was an obvious fermented complexity and back-note of sweetness, but the primary flavor was still that heat and, from the beer vinegar, some maltiness.
Triple Cherry Hot Sauce
- Ranier cherries
- Cherry bomb chilis
- New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian red vinegar
Step one: Combine equal parts by weight of cherries and cherry bomb chilis. Puree in food processor.
Step two: Add kosher salt in a ratio of 1 part salt to 30 parts puree.
Step three: Let mixture ferment uncovered (cover with cheesecloth) for 30 days.
Step four: Add vinegar to taste and let rest for two weeks. Strain and bottle.