The porch to his house was hung heavy with peppers, all kinds of peppers. So many peppers I could smell them as I drove up from the long, crooked road through the swamp, back around a bayou and next to a doublewide mobile home set up about four feet high on cinder blocks. From the lean, it was a job done by a man without a level.
“Dey calls me Mr. Peppers,” said the man with squinty eyes and scalded-complected hands. “While I’m no professional, I consider myself a professional pepper sauce maker.”
“So where can I get some?” I asked.
“Right heah, I reckon,” he said. “I don’t sell none, if dat’s what you mean.”
His hot sauce was made with a blended mixture of Jalapeno, Habanero, Cayenne and Tabasco peppers. At least that’s what he told me.
“I been known to lie about my ingredients,” he said, one eye cocked in my direction. “But I don’t use none a dem Ghost Peppers. They’ll kill a fine meal and a burnt tongue don’t taste nothing good.”
It was last summer when I first met Lameux. Not sure if it was his first or last name. His Cajun accent was pretty thick, and his Cajun hospitality was even thicker. In his tiny kitchen, he was cooking gator and turtle and chicken. Each one slathered in his homemade hot sauce and eventually served on paper plates under a pecan tree out next to his pump.
“If you’s can make a turtle taste good, you got sumpin, mister” he laughed. “Has to use a little extra flavoring to cut dat greasy turtle taste.”
His sauce did make the turtle taste good. Sweet and hot with a florally yet earthy finish. I learned descriptions like that from a winemaking friend of mine in Virginia. And that flavoring just might have had an alcohol content at one point. He was silent on its rummy origins.
“I dump sum sugarcane in dere while I’m cookin it up,” is all he said. “Make it smile in yo mouf.”
I traded him several boxes of MoonPies for his “hooch sauce” as he calls it.
Like I said, that was a year ago. Last week, I rode back by his place again, calling first just to make sure I don’t get shot. Like I said, I think he may brew other things beside hot sauce back in these woods, but I have never seen evidence of it.
He was sitting on the same leaning porch, no peppers this time since it was too early in the season. He looked a little haggard.
“Been sick wif dat old bad mojo floatin’ round dese parts,” he said. “You catch a whiffa dat and you stay down for a while, no joke. I just been verticle fo a week.”
“Are you going to make some sauce this year?” I asked, prepared to hand over more MoonPies if the answer was yes.
“I still alive, ain’t I?” he said. “Den I gwana make mo sauce. I run out just fo the mojo hit me. I bet my sauce would have held it off me. I was unprotected.”
Lameux without his peppers was a sad sight indeed and I gave him the MoonPies feeling bad about his condition.
“You come back in July and I fix you up,” he said, uncurling a boney, pepperated finger that resembled an arthitic Cayenne. “I take you fishin out yonder under the skies of God on the bayou when da wind be low and the get snakes frisky.”
He laughed. I didn’t. I did want some pepper sauce, but not enough to deal with frisky Louisiana snakes in an old, leaky boat with a half blind pepper saucemaker.
“Don’t worry bout dem sankes none,” he said, maybe joking, maybe not. “We eat us a mess a gator wid my hooch sauce and they be mo scared of us dan we are of dem.”
“Maybe we should rub it on the boat, just in case,” I laughed. He didn’t.
“You get us killed,” he said. “Dat sauce will eat a hole right trew dat old boat.”
Makes me kind of wonder what it’s doing to my stomach.