I was poking around in my refrigerator last night and realized I have THREE bottles of Tabasco. And two of them are the jumbo kind. First, I have my day-to-day bottle. Then I have a back-up bottle. And then I have the Special Bottle.
When I go to people's houses, I often find a reason to poke around their spice cabinet. "Do you have, um, any, ah, Mrs. Dash?" I might ask. "I love that stuff." (I hate it.) What I'm really looking for, of course, is their old bottle of Tabasco. The forgotten one, the one they bought when they first got a place of their own and figured they'd need a bottle of Tabasco, but personally they can't stand the stuff. So they opened it once, used it, then stuffed it in the back of a cabinet and forgot about it.
Tabasco is a deceptively simple little liquid. It's made from a mash of the Tabasco hot peppers, which used to be grown on Avery Island in Louisiana and are now mostly grown in South America. The mash is combined with vinegar and salt, then aged for 12 months in a white oak barrel. The juice that's strained out of this concoction is Tabasco.
And as good as this is, it's only the beginning of the heights Tabasco can really achieve. See, like many wines, Tabasco improves with age. It improves in the bottle for years. Prize bottles of Tabasco have turned a suspicious, vinergary-red and have gunk caked around the bottle opening. By this time, the Tabasco has acquired layers of flavor, depths of heat and complexity, that simply can't be faked.
If I find this bottle in your cabinet, I will ask you for it. If you say no, I will steal it. If I like you, I'll buy you a new bottle.
So this is my Special Bottle ... the one I bought a year ago, opened, and have let sit unmolested while other bottles rotate through my life, sprinkling their lives out over pizza, spaghetti, eggs, stews, Chinese food, pretty much everything.
I don't know when I'll finally use the Special Bottle (an anniversary? after finding out I have a terminal illness? during a night of weakness?). But when I do, I expect it will taste like victory, like spicy delayed gratification. In a way, that bottle is a measure of my adulthood—my younger self would have broken down by now.
And I hope there's a plate of lasagna involved.