When learning any new technology, I like to start with the smallest, most stripped-down "hello world" app I can. I want to create the most minimal demonstration that qualifies as a working example and then build from there so that it's absolutely clear to me what is truly necessary and what each extra adds. As it turns out, this makes plenty of sense when learning how to make hot sauce, and the "hello world" of hot sauce is remarkably simple.
Small children like to think of putting hot sauce on their pizza as a dangerous, exciting, grown-up thing to do. Texas Pete is a good one to start with because while it's not very hot, it's still a red sauce in a bottle with a red and yellow label that implies burning heat. My younger daughter has moved beyond Texas Pete, because a store near us has such a good selection that we love picking out new ones, and when she pointed out the Hot Sauce Kit in the Edmund Scientific catalog, we got it for her for Christmas.
Stories of the Tabasco company packing peppers in salt to ferment them for years before using them always gave me the impression that making hot sauce was a complicated process, but it doesn't have to be. The Edmund kit turned out to be bottles, dried spices, and directions. If you skip the kit, the most difficult part to acquire is the bottles, which you can get by cleaning out existing ones as you use up store-bought hot sauce. (A small funnel to get your product into the bottle is handy.) We started with the simplest recipe in the kit, so here's my approximation, the "hello world" of hot sauce:
Cut the stems off of some hot peppers and blanch them in boiling white vinegar for two or three minutes. Put the peppers, half a cup of the hot vinegar, and a teaspoon of salt into a food processor or minichopper, puree it, and put it into a bottle.
That's it. There are hundreds of optional steps, with our first tier being:
Wait a week before extensive consumption, because it does improve with age.
For the brief cooking of the peppers, grilling them adds to the flavor, but you should still boil (or just microwave) the vinegar a bit before pureeing the ingredients together.
A little sugar is a typical ingredient in some of the hotter sauces.
For other optional ingredients, look at the label of your favorite hot sauces and do some web searches. The Edmund kit came with spices such as garlic powder and dried ginger, but fresh garlic and ginger are obviously better, and lime juice is great. We put enough ingredients (including peppers that weren't too hot) into our first few hot sauces that the result was gloppier than your typical Tabasco-type sauce, so yesterday we used habaneros (hot enough that you should use rubber gloves when cutting them) to make a sauce that would be easier to shake out of a bottle while still being hot. Two orange habaneros made us a bottle that wasn't quite as hot as a typical new bottle of standard Tabasco sauce. We also put slices of ginger in the vinegar when we heated it up and added sugar, lime juice, and chopped garlic to the minichopper mix.
It's an excellent parent-kid project, especially when evaluating optional ingredients to add. If any of my relatives are reading this, please act surprised next Christmas when you receive bottles of hot sauce with elaborately designed labels as presents. And, as with making a few batches of beer or taking lessons on a musical instrument for just a few months, the experience gives you a better appreciation of which professionals are particularly good at what they do.