The label on the 5 oz, (59 ml.) Tabasco Sauce bottle has changed little or not at all since its introduction, as produced by Edmund McIlhenny, in 1868. The familiar perpendicular square with the majestic TABASCO appears on the front. Turn the bottle around and on back you’ll find a concise description of the product: “Made from special peppers fermented naturally in wood for 3 years.” Then, without excess verbiage, we are told: “Gives delicious flavour to hamburgers, eggs, tomato juice, salads, etc.” Though one may be left hanging by the implications of “etc.”, there can be little doubt about the straight-forward imperative that follows: “Add Tabasco directly to seafood and always to soups, stews and gravies.” (The emphasis is mine) Yes—”directly to seafood”—it’s de rigour with oysters. What about “tomato juice”, an essential ingredient, I remind you, of a Caesar (a Canadian invention), and what is a Caesar without Tabasco? As for “soups, stews and gravies” perhaps only the pusillanimous would hesitate to follow the directive.
Now, these quotes are from the familiar small bottle, sometimes found hidden for years in the recesses of the refrigerators of unbelievers. (They’ve been married so long that they’re on their second bottle of Tabasco.) Of course, the bottle, as sold in Canada (notice the spelling of “flavour”), also provides instructions, rather elegantly I thought, in French: Ajoutez Tabasco aux fruits de mer, et toujours dans les soupes, ragouts et sauces. Ragouts is so much more elegant than “stews.” And et toujours might well be found at the end of a love letter.
We who live in this bi-lingual country are privileged to be presented with a label designed specifically to manage and direct our diffident, self-effacing and sometimes romantic nature.
The pleasure I have always taken in the Tabasco label wording was shattered when, a few months back, I accompanied my daughter and her husband to a behemoth-size Costco store in the state of Washington. Though overwhelmed by the enormity of it all (You can buy gallon bottles of gin!), I was delighted to find a generous 12 oz. (355 ml.) bottle of Tabasco. It came packaged in a flashy red box covered with all kinds of enthusiastic directives and panegyrics, implying that the purchaser belongs to a special class of people who are to be addressed in upper case: “ARE YOU ONE OF US?”, who will no doubt, “SHAKE WELL: and “Crack open the FLAVOR.” Oh well, that was just the box yelling “BUY ME!” at the supersaturated American shopper. Surely the bottle itself would preserve the dignified diction of the familiar label. No such luck! Now, following such jazzy information as: “For well over a century, the adventurous flavor of TABASCO (Note capitals.) Sauce has fired up generations of thrill seekers.” OK, who, in this generation of red-blooded thrill seeking Americans, would want to be left out? However, the final blow is yet to come. After these upbeat and ever-so-contemporary-words we are informed that “TABASCO [is} on the culinary cutting edge.” So of course you will: “Try it on eggs, pizza, salad and other food for a burst of flavor that will tantalize your taste buds.” What? Try it? Tantalize? What happened to the reassuring admonitions of the label I had come to love? Is it that Americans prefer to be tantalized, or at least try to be, rather than simply being told what to do?
In hopes that the Canadian version of the larger bottle might still address me in reasonable human terms, I have, without success, looked for it in the markets where I shop. I cling to the hope that if and when I do find it, the label will show that we Canadians can be trusted, without hoopla, to add Tabasco judiciously to the appropriate, even etc., dishes and, need I say, always to soups, stews and gravies.