When your taste buds want some excitement, salsa might be the first thing to come to mind.
And in the Sky Valley, two salsa makers offer spice lovers a rainbow of options from sweet and tangy mild bean salsa to scorching “fire” salsa, served fresh from the refrigerator.
But those aren’t the only options for tongue-tingling tastes; for some sweet with the heat, try jellies and even candy featuring fiery flavors.
Here’s where to get locally-made spicy goods, what’s on offer and how to serve it.
First Pick Produce
Aaron Brown has only been in business at First Pick Produce, a farm stand a mile south of Monroe on U.S. 2, for a couple of months.
But the Texas native has been making salsa for years as part of his long-time catering business, and his homemade salsas have become top-sellers at the stand.
“I’ve always made salsa, coming up on 13 years now,” said Brown, at the stand last week, which now features the first of the local crops of spinach and other greens, along with a solid array of low-cost fruits and vegetables. “I use it a ton, especially on our Mexican food, like enchiladas.”
In a refrigerated case at the store, Brown sells five varieties of salsa in 16-ounce containers. They include pico de gallo, a green chile verde salsa, a mild salsa, a hot salsa and one called “fire.”
Pico de gallo literally means “beak of the rooster” and is said to resemble chicken-pecked vegetables, or vegetables cut into fine chunks.
“It’s more of a topping than a dip,” Brown explained.
The green salsa is garlic-rich and tangy but mild, and a perennial favorite with customers, said Brown.
“A big thing people do is take home the duck eggs we sell here and put that verde sauce on them,” he said.
Both hot and fire salsas are rich, red salsas; hot is plenty spicy and fire is best braved only by people with a high tolerance for heat.
So much do customers love the fresh salsa at First Pick Produce that, whatever he stocks on Tuesday is gone by the weekend, said Brown.
He chalks that up to fresh, homemade flavor.
“It ain’t El Paso,” he said.
First Pick Produce is located at the corner of Tualco Road and SR 203.
Paula’s Pepper Jellies
At Paula’s Pepper Jellies last Thursday, owner Paula Peak was polishing wineglasses for a Ladies’ Night event that evening.
On the counter was a three-tiered display of colorful wrapped candies.
Hidden inside each was a spicy surprise; the candies enrobed fillings made of Paula’s spicy jellies made with fruit flavors and peppers.
“Try this one,” she said, unwrapping a white chocolate truffle.
Once bitten, it oozed a deep purple filling, mostly sweet, but with a hint of heat.
Peak started making her own candies when a supplier of spicy truffles relocated. She found at Christmastime that she couldn’t keep gift boxes of the piquant treats in the store.
Fillings include strawberry, blueberry, pumpkin and red raspberry, each with a kick from peppers ranging from jalapeño to habanero.
In the front of building, visitors to the store can sample those flavors, as well as many
others from cut glass containers carrying the pepper jellies themselves.
Some are only slightly sultry, such as pumpkin spice, but others, including a habanero jelly, are positively incendiary.
Pepper jellies are a great addition to baked brie, glazes for roasted meat, or even a great secret ingredient for chili.
“Try habanero jelly in chili for a little sweet heat,” said Peak. “I put in an eighth of a cup in a whole huge pot of chili.”
Not all of Peak’s spicy offerings are sweet, however. She sells bags of her house pretzels, which get a kick from a soy and spice glaze. And she also cans salsa, including a mild bean salsa that is a good match for eggs, and a habanero salsa that will water the eyes of the toughest customer.
The uses for spicy additions to food are many, said Peak.
Within the next couple of weeks, she said, she plans to have a website up with recipes including her spicy fare.
Paula’s Pepper Jelly and Paula’s Wine Knot are located at 19829 SR 203 in Monroe.