This Chiltepin Sauce is made from the chiltepin pepper, which was designated the Official State Native Pepper of Texas in 1997 (not to be confused with the jalapeno, the Official State Pepper).
Chiltepins are scorching hot peppers, registering at 50,000 to 100,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale. For reference, jalapenos only come in at 3,500 to 8,000 SHU. That makes chiltepins as much as 12 times hotter.
My grandparents on my father’s side lived in a house in the center of Pecos, Texas, before the late 1980’s when they moved to Lubbock to be near their kids. My granddad kept chiltepin plants in his garden outside his front door.
I used to watch him pick the chiltepins off the plant and pop them in his mouth. I had no idea how hot they were back then because he wouldn’t let me have any.
I think the inside of his mouth had to be made out of leather to eat them like that.
He would also make a vinegar sauce out of them to put on his breakfast eggs in the mornings. Fresh chiltepins are hard to find at the store nowadays, but the dried ones also work great for this sauce.
Below is the language of the designation of the chiltepin as the Official State Native Pepper of Texas:
House Concurrent Resolution
WHEREAS, The Lone Star State’s reputation as a haven for lovers of hot and spicy food is well deserved, and the native chiltepin pepper has contributed greatly to this proud legacy; and
WHEREAS, A member of the genus Capsicum, the chiltepin grows wild in our temperate climate and is both undeniably American and typically Texan; its distinctive flavor makes it ideal for hearty stews and red-hot Texas chili, and it is a staple in many Tex-Mex favorites; and
WHEREAS, Even the mockingbird, our state bird, recognizes the appeal of this piquant pod, choosing to dine on it almost exclusively when the pepper is in season; wild turkeys, too, are often seen feeding on these tasty little morsels, and these and other fruit-eating wild birds play a vital role in the chiltepin’s proliferation; and
WHEREAS, Found in abundance from the southern United States to northern South America, the chiltepin has been used for many years by the various peoples who have populated our great state; known variously as chile mosquito and chile bravo, the Spanish described this zesty fruit as “arrebatado,” meaning that although its spiciness is immediate and intense, this bold sensation does not linger long; and
WHEREAS, The chiltepin is used in both fresh and dried forms, combined with vinegar to make a tangy sauce or sprinkled into soup to provide just the right seasoning; perhaps the most amazing attribute of this indigenous spice is that it has been shown to increase the human metabolism by as much as 25 percent, making it a promising means of controlling weight gain; and
WHEREAS, The chiltepin’s storied history even includes a footnote to one of our greatest American presidents, Thomas Jefferson; an avid gardener, President Jefferson acquired some of these exotic tiny peppers from a fellow horticulturist and displayed a keen interest in establishing a market for this Texas pepper; and
WHEREAS, It is important to acknowledge and promote our endemic natural resources, for they are an integral part of our heritage and help to make us recognizable to other cultures around the globe; the chiltepin is Texas’ only native pepper, and its long history and wide variety of uses make it truly deserving of special recognition and endorsement; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 75th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby declare the chiltepin the official State Native Pepper of Texas. (link)
Texas-Style Chiltepin Sauce
- Wash a bottle or jar and dry it.
- Heat the vinegar until simmering in a saucepan.
- Using a toothpick or knife, poke a hole through a few peppers so that the vinegar will penetrate (Optional. This will make your sauce hotter).
- Add the chiles, garlic, and salt to the jar, then pour the hot vinegar in. Swirl the jar to ensure that everything is mixed thoroughly. Let rest for at least two weeks, swirling every few days, before using (this helps the flavors meld).