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The Grapevine

Sherry pepper and black rum add heat to Bermuda's cuisine

By Lisa Airey, thewinekey@aol.com

11:00 AM EDT, October 28, 2012

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In the days of sail, those who plied the seas often added hot peppers to barrels of sherry to create a fiery "sauce" that was used to mask the off-flavors of rancid foodstuffs on board ship. No doubt, the serendipitous addition of alcohol into the dish helped to stave off a few of the nasty microbes as well. It was a healthful seasoning and it tasted good too.

The tradition of a peppered sherry under the moniker of sherry peppers landed in Bermuda in the 1800s with the Royal Navy and was quickly adopted by land-lubbers alike.

Bermuda had an agrarian economy at the time and was quick to recognize a "growing" opportunity. They planted pequin peppers and traded or sold these to visiting navy men who already sported ready-to-infuse barrels of sherry in the holds of their sailing vessels. You could say it was a match made in Bermuda, for that is exactly what happened.

Fast forward to 1964. Yeaton Duval Outerbridge and cousin Robert Dean Outerbridge, two Bermuda residents, opted to re-create that spicy slice of history by mixing up a sherry pepper concoction for Robert's restaurant. Patrons loved the stuff and begged for bottles "to go". The two men opted to produce their sherry pepper sauce commercially, and the historical hot sauce was re-born with a twist.

Outerbridge's Original Sherry Peppers now incorporates 17 herbs and spices. Although it only clocks in at 146 on the Scoville Scale, it packs a punch and adds a noticeable kick to whatever dish or libation to which it is added.

Its uses are multi-fold. Some add a splash to scrambled eggs or quiche. Others add it to a Bloody Mary. It is incorporated into Bermuda's rum swizzle and it is a key ingredient to Bermuda fish chowder. It improves a simple chicken or potato soup and adds panache to clam chowder and lobster bisque. Amazing stuff born on the high seas.

The Scoville Scale:

The Scoville Scale measures the amount of capsaicin in chili peppers; capsaicin is the chili component responsible for the burn. For point of reference, Anaheim chilis have a Scoville rating of 1,000, jalapenos 3,500-8,000, seranos 10,000-23,000, habeneros and scotch bonnets 100,000-350,000. This means that a pepper with a Scoville Rating of 10,000, would need to have its capsaicin extract diluted by 10,000 before you'd eliminate the burn.

Bermuda's second wine connection actually has to do with locally made Gosling's Black Seal black rum. (Bear with me here.)

In the late 19th century, Goslings rum was sold directly from the barrel. Patrons provided their own containers. After World War I, the Goslings recycled the empty champagne bottles from the British officers mess hall, filled them with rum, and sealed the cork with black sealing wax. Although this practice has long ceased, the iconic black seal lives on in the form of a black seal (the water animal) on the label.

Goslings black rum is also a key ingredient in Bermuda fish chowder, the rum swizzle and another iconic island drink: the Dark and Stormy.

Little cruets of sherry pepper and black rum grace every table of every restaurant in Bermuda. It's a nice spice to island life.

And for the record, if you've had a few drinks on island, the locals will say that you're "hot." If you've had more than your share you're "full hot." If you've over-indulged to the point of pain, you're well on your way to a "Royal Full Hot." But that's not the whole truth. You'll get the same way with a few bowls of fish chowder!