For over three centuries, New Orleans has reigned as an international refuge of virtue and vice... of sinners and saints... harmonizing to an indulgent jazz riff of deficiency and excess. New Orleans oscillates between entropic Old World characteristics and its dynamic cast of characters — the pious and pure amidst bandits and thieves, mercenary pirates, two-bit hustlers, saucy seductresses, scandal-prone politicians, voodoo drag queens, mischievous cardinals, fictitious vampires, musical savants, and poetic gluttons.
At no time was this more evident than in the late 1890s, when the New Orleans City Council set up “Storyville” as the red-light district to regulate prostitution. During this time “blue book” guides were published for those unholy visitors wishing to indulge in what New Orleans had to offer. These books included brothel descriptions, prices, particular services, and the “stock” each house offered. The Storyville blue books were inscribed with the motto: “Order of the Garter: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (Shame on Him Who Thinks Evil of It)”.
From ca. 1912, one of E.J. Bellocq's iconic portraits from the Storyville demimonde.
Wikimedia Commons. Photo by E.J. Bellocq.
Although jazz music did not originate in Storyville, it certainly flourished. Upscale brothels nurtured the music of the era. They would hire piano players and jazz combos to entertain their clientele. Most notably, jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton — whose influence on the late Dr. John has been well-documented — and a young impressionable Louis Armstrong who worked hauling coal to the brothels and saloons, presenting him an opportunity to understudy the top musicians of the day.
This bygone nugget of New Orleans’ colorful history provides the backdrop for my most “Louisiana-style” hot sauce recipe, Ruby Rebelle. Virtue and vice are the secret ingredients for both homage and defiance to the simple, tried and true Louisiana hot sauce blend of cayenne peppers, vinegar, and salt.
With an modest dose of barrel-aged bourbon and an extra decadent dash of garlic, I aimed to strike a balance between the pious and pure hot sauce of my grandfather’s generation with the “heatonistic” flavor indulgences of today’s small batch handcrafted hot sauce pioneers.
Fictitiously personified, Ruby Rebelle is a scarlot harlot clad in iron and lace. She will steal your heart and then rob you blind — if you’re lucky. Hot and dangerous just like my hometown New Orleans. Shame on him who thinks evil of it.