Of Salt, Tabasco and Civil Wars

Here’s an interesting story of how salt was involved in the creation of the Tabasco brand Tabasco sauce, care of Salt:A World History

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Edmund McIlhenny was a Marylander who moved to New Orleans in 1841 at the ripe old age of 26. By the time he was 42, he owned 5 banks in the Crescent City, making him a relatively wealthy individual. This afforded him the opportunity to hob nob with local politicos and others within the power elite, include one Daniel Dudley Avery, a judge from up the road in Baton Rouge.

Now the good judge had two items that are intergral to this story. First, he had a daughter by the name of Mary Eliza. Mary Eliza must have gotten along famously with Mr. McIlhenny, as they were married to one another on June day in 1859. Edmund was 43 at the time, Mary Eliza was 21.

The second thing that the Judge Avery had in his possession was a sugar plantation located on Petit Anse, located some 140 miles west of New Orleans. With New Orleans being on the hit list of Union objectives during the Civil War, the Avery’s and McIlhenny’s decided it was best to stay away from the conflict and settle in at the plantation, hoping to ride out the war in relative peace.

Things were going as planned until early in May of 1862, when a slave hit solid salt whilst trying to deepen a brine well. Suddenly the families realized that they were sitting on both a valuable resource and a military target. Salt was in short supply in the South, and was near a vital commodity for both civilian and military applications. They decided to sell the salt to the Confederacy.

Soon the Union knew about the salt domes in the area, and made their presence known. This forced the families into Texas, away from their plantation. By April 17, 1863, the new salt works were destroyed.

By the end of the war, the Judge’s finances were intact, allowing him to purchase the rest Petit Anse that he didn’t own, where it was renamed Avery Island.

The McIlhenny’s did not make out so well. Having been paid in now useless Conderate bills, a great amount of their fortune had been lost. Edmund looked for a way to recreate his wealth. After meeting a man by the name of Gleason, who told McIlhenny about a small red pepper and the need for said peppers in the cuisine of the area. Being a quick study, McIlhenny returned to Avery Island to become a farmer and to create a regular source of the sauce for the locals.

Using the salt from the island to ferment and extract juices from the red peppers he had grown, he was able to mix those juices with white wine vinegar and create the Tabasco brand as we know it today.

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