TableTalk is CityBeat’s newest dining column about all the finer details that make a meal ideal, especially in the Queen City.
Whether you tend your own garden or just love to shop at the local farmer’s market, summer is the best time of the year for fresh produce. If you’d like to stretch the lifespan of some of your favorite fruits and vegetables there are plenty of ways to keep the essence of summertime ready for the table through every season — as long as you follow a few safety rules with an understanding of basic health guidelines. No one likes a moldy pepper, but who could say no to a tangy, deliciously spicy hot sauce made in your own area code?
Nate Nunemaker, the titular entrepreneurial agriculturalist behind Farmer Nate’s Sauce Co., knows a thing or two about food preservation — specifically canning hot sauce. He debuted his first line of three different hot sauces in December 2020 to wide praise: Curry Jalapeño, Kentucky Tang and Smokehouse Habanero. The flavors range from sweet and earthy to a nice punctuated kick of spice, while all three are suitable for any fiery flavor-hound. His products can be found on shelves across Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky — even a retailer in California — which means Nunemaker’s seriously educated himself on legally required health and safety protocols for professional food sales in order to set up his business. He spoke with CityBeat about how he makes his popular hot sauces on a scale much larger than the common home cook, but all the same principles apply in your kitchen. Like most farmers, regardless of the size of their plot, the process begins in the garden.
Nate Nunemaker: Start with the peppers. I’ll pick my peppers and everything else. I wash the peppers first and I put them up in a blender and I make it this really chunky texture. I’ll add my water, my vinegar and blend all that together. It’s not going to be perfectly blended yet, it’s not going to be super saucy, it’s going to still have some chunks in it. I’ll throw that into a pot, start getting it hot, taking it up to 200-210 degrees. As that’s heating up, I’m putting in my spices and herbs and stuff.
CityBeat: Is there a specific salt balance by weight to make it safe?
NN: Yeah, it’s typically 3%. Then, once I get all my ingredients in the pot I use an immersion blender, it’s essentially just more of like a fine blender. That, with all the water and vinegar, will take it down to more of that saucy consistency. Then, just as a binder, I use xanthan gum, which is gluten free, it has no preservatives in it, it just holds everything together essentially.
CB: Xanthan gum, does that change the consistency, make it a bit more saucy?
NN: Yeah, it binds it all together. I use it for two reasons: so there’s not as big of chunks and then, also, if you don’t use xanthan gum what’s going to happen to your sauce, when it sits for a couple of days, everything is going to settle at the bottom. That’s not bad, it’s still completely good to use, you’ve just got to shake it up first. For a while I wasn’t using xanthan gum, so I had noticed there is some separation — on the top of my bottle was all the water and vinegar and on the bottom was all the thickness, the pepper mash and all my spices and stuff which, for me, is not really appealing, but it is a natural occurrence. Completely safe to use and it’s still good as long as you just shake it up.
CB: Does xanthan gum have any specific flavor?
NN: It does not change the flavor, it only holds everything together and changes the consistency. You can buy it at Kroger in the baking aisle because xanthan gum is used a lot in baking, too. It is really easy to put in too much and make it extremely thick, almost thicker than ketchup, I would say it’s really easy to overdo it, so you only need a little bit.
CB: Do you have a hot sauce recipe you’d recommend for first-timers?
NN: I would say just play around with it, it depends on what the person wants.
CB: So, now that we’ve made this sauce, how do we preserve it?
NN: Canning is huge, it’s how people have been doing it for a very long time. Especially if it’s going to be a while before you get to it. Or, if you’re prepping for an emergency that may or may never come, or if you just have a huge garden and huge harvest and you want to hold on to that because, if you don’t can them, they’re all gonna go to waste, which kind of sucks.
Essentially, you need to get the right brine, it’s typically just vinegar to get your pH [the acidic balance] to the level that you want. You need to use something like a Ball can that has the lids that pop in and out. You put it in a Ball jar, figure out brine with your mixture in there and then what you want to do. It’s called a hot bath or a boiling bath. You take a pot of water, you fill it about halfway, and you put that up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. What that does is that will suction that lid to seal it, so that creates a vacuum. Leave it in around 10 minutes or less, it depends on what you’re making and how much you’re doing. You’re going to want some tongs to get them out of the bath.
I definitely would sit that can somewhere that’s in a dark space, I wouldn’t sit it out on a windowsill, but you’re able to preserve that and you can pull that out later when you want to use it. It really is a great method, in my opinion. That’s what got me into making hot sauce, I first started canning my cucumbers, onions — I love pickled onions. You can find a lot of great recipes for what you put in your jar.
CB: This kind of skill allows you to be a bit more self sufficient in some ways.
NN: Yeah, I think so too. I mean, you never know. Not to be like a doomsday prepper, but you just never know what can happen. With inflation going up, I mean, I suggest everyone to start gardening. It’s a good tool to have. It’s good to know how to germinate seeds and how to harvest seeds from from what you’ve got. I think it’s important to know. Hopefully, it’s never gonna be a necessity to need to use, but I think it’s good just in case. Also, you get a lot of great food out of it. Typically, when you get a good garden harvest, you have so much that you just give it to friends and family which is always fun. That’s always an experience. So, I always think gardening’s a basic knowledge that everyone should have.
Always inspect your jars for cracks, use new lids every time you make a new batch and don’t eat anything that looks significantly different from when it was canned. Mold of any sort typically makes any canned item inedible. For more information about canning food health and safety guidelines and much more, visit fda.gov.
To learn more about Farmer Nate’s Sauce Co. and where you can get a few bottles of your own, visit farmernatessauce.com.
Do you have something to say at the table? Don’t talk with your mouth full, email [email protected].
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