This is not going to be like our usual 3 person reviews, although we have 3 reviewers setup for the Palmetto Potions’ reviews. We have 4 of the Palmetto Pepper Potions that were sent out to us from Reid Edgar of SnazzyGourmet.com who sells their products. He wanted people new to the world of hot sauce to hear about a multiple award winning company dating back to 2005. Not a long time for most of us, but since the love of fiery foods has grown by leaps and bounds in popularity over the last few years Reid thought it would be a good idea to re-introduce people to Palmetto Pepper Potions. Creators Mark and Julie Riffle have earned 12 international awards in the world’s top fiery foods competitions in both the Golden Chile and Scovie awards. What makes this review different is that we spread out the 4 potions if you will to 3 of our reviewers. Daily Red in this review will be done by Derrick Wood and Dale Gilbert. In the next one, Trenholm Venom, we have Jacob Robertson and again with Dale Gilbert. The 3rd and 4th review we have Derrick with the Larynx Lave and Jacob with the Molten Golden. Why only one? Well, these are their 2 big award winners and I think confidence in these two sauces was high enough to go with just the 1 reviewer. Not the way we usually do things, but I didn’t make that call, so hopefully our review team with live up to their confidence. Before we get to the review, let us tell you a little about these potion makers.
Palmetto Pepper Potions began in the South Carolina kitchen of Mark and Julie Riffle after a friend had gifted us with a surplus of chile pepper plants. The peppers were eagerly planted all over the yard, along the driveway and among the wildflowers. When the peppers ripened, we experimented with herbs, seasonal fruits and fresh vegetables to create a rainbow of vibrant, fresh-tasting sauces. Friends, family, favorite musicians and a surprising number of strangers clamored for more. In just four years, Palmetto Pepper Potions has earned 12 international awards in the world’s top fiery foods competitions. Each flavor has been handcrafted to the music of a favorite band or musician from the southeast. Palmetto Pepper Potions hot sauces are inspired by the beauty, hospitality and heat of South Carolina. Try Daily Red, Larynx Lava, Molten Golden and Trenholm Venom.
Hot sauce is the ultimate ambassador!
by Julie Riffle
When (Mark)Riff was in 4th grade in West Virginia, a classmate brought cinnamon toothpicks to school. These were the potent, homemade variety. From the first burn, Riff realized that he loved having his tongue aglow. From there, he ventured to pepperoncini with pizza and antipasto. In high school, he tried his first oysters on the half-shell with a dash of hot sauce. He was hooked.
I was blessed with parents who both were excellent cooks. Mom was self-taught and worked her way through Julia Child and “Joy of Cooking” when my sister, brother and I were growing up in Montana, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Michigan, Florida, Ohio and points in between. Dad was a pilot in the Air Force and traveled extensively. When he came home from a trip, he would prepare something exotic that he had tasted while serving in a foreign country.
My parents always welcomed kids in the kitchen and I began cooking when I was 8. When Dad was home, he made popcorn every evening. When he was away on temporary duty, Mom didn’t pop popcorn often enough to suit me. My love of popcorn was the main motivation for learning to cook. We always popped ours in a much-loved pot on the stovetop.
When I began dating Riff and learned about his love of spicy foods, I took up the challenge of infusing his meals with heat. His response was always — “I could soak my contacts in that!”
Riff came from a long line of gardeners, especially his Grandma Betty in West Virginia, who was very proud of her tomatoes. I had never successfully grown a houseplant for more than a few weeks. When we moved into our new house, we were excited about having a yard. Our first vegetable garden looked like it was planted by a couple of drunks after dark. Riff’s Grandma Betty had called and urged us to plant on a certain day, because the Farmer’s Almanac said that was the ideal time.
That happened to be a very busy work day for us, so we picked up the plants after work. We decided that we were too hungry to plant and we waited until after dinner. After enjoying a bottle of wine with our dinner, it was just getting dark when we went out to dig the rows. We planted by flashlight.
What we had the next morning were crooked, meandering rows, but we had planted eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, okra, green beans and peppers. We were amazed at the harvest that year. Amazed that a couple of first-time vegetable gardeners could actually make a meal from foods we grew.
When he saw how serious Riff was about gardening, Riff’s father came down from West Virginia and built two raised garden beds from old railroad ties. He even brought 50-gallon barrels of horse manure and some West Virginia soil. These beds have been ideal for growing peppers and tomatoes and we still use them every year for our home vegetable garden.
In our early gardening ventures, we discovered habaneros. The first year, we didn’t realize we were flirting with such serious fire. Riff took a bite of one at the dinner table and looked like he might need a quick Heimlich maneuver. When his lips were still burning 45 minutes later, I had found my secret ingredient.
The next year, when our friend John Mann, a.k.a. “Pepperhead” brought about 300 chile pepper plants to work, Riff brought home as many as his car would hold. Pepperhead had ordered a bunch of seeds over the Internet. He gave the seeds to friends who had a greenhouse, thinking his friends would plant a few seeds from each packet. Instead, they planted EVERY seed from EVERY packet.
Not ones to waste perfectly healthy chile pepper plants, we planted them everywhere. Riffwood Acre became a pepper field with gold habaneros, red habaneros, cayennes, cowhorns, Thai peppers, tabascos, jalapenos, hot bananas, congos and many mystery chiles.
I began experimenting with making hot sauce. The first attempt was forgettable, but a few batches later, Daily Red was born. My father grows mangoes, citrus and other tropical fruits, so every time he would send us a box of fruit, I ended up trying it in a sauce. Friends learned that if they had an abundance of peppers, figs, peaches, berries, apples, pears or loquats, we could make just about anything into tasty, spicy grilling glazes, marinades and hot sauces.
Hot sauce parties followed, with friends bringing appetizers, ingredients and libations. We realized that certain favorite music always accompanied sauce creation nights. My favorite band, Athenaeum, was a part of every sauce night. We also found that music by Mike Garrigan, Sister Hazel, and Danielle Howle & the Tantrums was always in the mix.
In April 2003, we were headed to a concert at Erskine College to see Athenaeum and Sister Hazel. I packed a couple of homemade bottles of Daily Red. I reasoned that – the cooler the people — the greater the chances that they were hot sauce lovers. Each band was given a bottle that night and Mike Garrigan mentioned it in his tour diary.
In June of that year, for my birthday, we went to a Mark Kano and Mike Garrigan acoustic show and brought a 6-pack sampler of homemade hot sauces. These were primitively packaged in sterilized soda pop bottles with recycled wine cork stoppers – not the sort of food gift most people would feel comfortable accepting from a stranger.
Mark and Mike and their crew were gutsy souls and they tried all of the flavors. They e-mailed a few days later, saying which flavors they enjoyed the most and even offering suggestions for ways to use the sauces. Their encouragement meant a lot. Mark Kano kept in touch and soon influenced the creation of a new sauce – Larynx Lava – a red habanero and fresh ginger sauce with pineapple, tangerine and herbs.
We realized we were on to something when people who previously wouldn’t touch hot sauce became addicted. Case in point: Riff’s favorite aunt — “Cool Aunt Rebecca.” The only thing uncool about Rebecca was her fear of hot sauce.
Every Christmas, we would give Rebecca samples of our latest flavors. She never tasted them. One year she set the bottles out at her New Year’s Eve party and noticed how fast her friends were devouring them. Their enthusiasm convinced Rebecca to try some. She began with a tiny drop of Larynx Lava on a cream cheese cracker. Epiphany! Now, she can’t bear to have fewer than four bottles on hand.
I continued developing new flavors and making and bottling our tiny batches of hot sauce for our own enjoyment and to share with family and friends. As we explored the daunting costs of product liability insurance, barcodes, product testing, nutritional analysis, packaging, bottling and distribution, we didn’t know how we could make that leap into the marketplace.
While researching the possibility of bringing our sauces to market, I learned that nearly 20,000 new food products are introduced each year and that there is a 96 percent failure rate in the first three years – a statistic I chose not to share with the Hot Honcho. We still dreamed of the day when we would walk into a store and see a row of gleaming bottles of our sauces on a shelf.
When Riff’s Grandma Betty passed away she bequeathed a gift that allowed us to begin the process of getting our hot sauce on the market.
Taking our handcrafted kitchen creations into the marketplace has been quite a journey and we appreciate all the support we have had from so many people. Special thanks to Alice Richardson, a.k.a. “Sistah A”, who has been so supportive, intuitive and helpful at every stage. In my next life, I hope to be as organized and creative as Alice is. We have learned that having a unique recipe is just the first step. When someone says, “Hey, this is great! You should sell it. I’d buy it!” — your job is just beginning. We still have much to learn.
Hot sauce is truly the ultimate ambassador and has led to many fun things. We’ve had the honor of earning five international awards in the world’s top two fiery foods competitions. We’ve had the pleasure of having two of our favorite musicians join us at our place for a magazine photo shoot. Thanks, Mark and Mike! We’ve had the excitement of having Palmetto Pepper Potions featured in the South Carolina edition of Southern Living. Thanks, Pat, Suzanne and Mary Margaret!
We’ve had the joy of meeting and hearing from many hot sauce lovers who make us glad that we have the opportunity to share the fire.
We’ve been blessed with our beautiful Pepper Princess, Mia, who isn’t a chilehead yet, but truly loves growing and picking peppers and watching the Hot Honcho taste them.
Please send us your Sauce Stories and the creative ways you use Palmetto Pepper Potions sauces to Make Every Day Sizzle