Here in Montana, restaurant tables generally feature salt, pepper, and Tabasco.  Sometimes local honey, if they’re really in the know, like our friends at Two Sisters and Johnson’s.  Ranch doesn’t inhabit the table, but no Montana waitress would look at you twice if you ordered ranch with a side of anything from pickles to chocolate pie.

Back South, where I grew up, restaurant tables are more crowded, and are as likely to feature cane syrup as they are honey, and of course, salt and pepper, ketchup and mustard, Tabasco and Crystal, white vinegar, malt vinegar, and hot pepper vinegar/pepper sauce.  Ahh, pepper sauce … that biting combination of hot peppers and white vinegar that sits in glass jars on tables throughout the South.  It’s just as likely the cook whipped up a batch as it is for the pepper sauce to be “store bought,” and considering the simplicity of the recipe, it’s likely to taste just the same, though I am partial to the variety that someone’s grandma made in her own glass vinegar jar.

I like pepper sauce on any number of vegetables, and dry cornbread too, but what pepper sauce does to greens is what makes it a staple on a Southern table.  A generous dash or two (or ten, if you’ve got an asbestos digestive system like me and Funcle How do) takes collards and turnips from leafy, chewy, green bowls of nutrition to verdant vessels of sunbaked goodness and light.  I’m serious.  Sublime is an overused adjective in the food world, but fresh greens, properly prepared and topped off with pepper sauce, are absolutely supreme and outstanding; complete, absolute, and utter, as the dictionary demands of nouns to which sublimity is applied.

At this year’s beekeeping convention in Galveston, a passel of us went out for barbecue and I discovered pepper sauce on the greasy table and turnip greens on the laminated menu.  So y’all know what I ordered.

Well, and I ordered this, too:

And this:

And then I was thirsty, and so I applied the ratio of plastic-tablecloths-to-fabulous-sweet-tea.  And I chose wisely.

And I didn’t actually order this, but the cook brought it out to me, and it would have been rude to refuse lemon pound cake.

At least, that’s what my mama taught me.  How can a gal say no to cook Leon?

I couldn’t.

Anyway, making pepper sauce ain’t hard.  Take your favorite glass vessel (sterilized), preferably one with a pouring spout, and stuff it full of chopped hot peppers – whatever you’ve got on hand works just fine, whether they’re jalapenos, anaheims, or serranos.  Pour white vinegar over the peppers, completely covering them.  Leave a little air space at the top of the jar.  Stick it in your pantry for a couple of weeks, or your fridge if you’d rather.

Procure the greens.  Cook ’em up.  Ham hocks are optional.  Pepper sauce is not.  Serve.  Smile.

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