I grew up around good food. My Mom was a good cook, she just didn’t like to cook. My grandmother, Dommie, who was Mom’s mom, was a good cook and liked to cook. She grew up one of 9 children and lived on a farm , so she cooked country and it was good! This gave me a base to start my cooking life.
The coolest thing is that my grandfather Poppie, Mom’s dad, aka Clary Carroll bird, owned cafe’s out in the West Texas Oilfield, where my Mom was born in Tulia, Texas. So, I not only have my my Mom and Dommie, but Poppie as well to thank for my passion for food. I don’t remember much of Poppie’s food, but do know his chili. My folks started the Chili Bowl in 1964, which is an annual party based around chili and football. Of course, Poppie made the chili and my mom didn’t know how to spell it , using “Chile Bowl” on her first invitations. Well needless to say the chili was a hit and 50 years later it is still a hit at the “Chili Bowl” we carry on to this day.
The reason I know his chili so well, is that Mom stopped cooking it when I was 16 years old, and I took it on. The style of this chili is called “Texas Red”, because it is only meat and sauce. Poppie’s original recipe called for beef suet, beef kidney fat that is pure white and beautiful, that is rendered down to oil and added to the all beef ground chuck. Beef chuck is lean and needs to have a good amount of fat for a nice mouth feel. The problem with rendering suet is that it is time consuming and dangerous handling boiling fat. I up-dated the recipe by adding ground pork butt to the beef chuck and this made the chili silky. I kept the rest of Poppie’s recipe as written.
Chili was not my first cooking experience. By the time I was 12 years old. my older brother and sister were off to college. My mom had decided to stop cooking many meals during the week while my father was out traveling for work. This left me the opportunity to heat up some food and this started my passion for food as well as my experimentation.
During this same time my folks introduced me to Chinese food. I went into the restaurant kicking and screaming about trying this new food and came out a changed person. Wow, there were all kinds of new flavors and I loved it! After that experience, I would be the one to suggest a Chinese food fix.
By the age of 14, I had a wok and was cooking Chinese on a regular basis. My mom got me a the Joyce Chen cookbook and I was on my way to some pretty decent Chinese food. One time, my folks invited some of their good friends to come over for a Chinese dinner that I was preparing. I cooked a good dinner of homemade fried wontons, Shrimp fried rice and cashew chicken. We all noticed that our guests did not eat very much of the meal. They later confessed that they had eaten before they came over just in case the food wasn’t to their liking! After that, they always came over with a big appetite. Funny how things change when there is good food to eat.
As long as I can remember, I have been around spicy hot food. My first recollection of jalapenos was my dad opening a gallon of jalapenos slices. I didn’t even know they made peppers in gallon cans. Once that gallon was opened, the slices were transferred to a large white plastic container with a lid. From there a serving size was put in a glass jar with lid and put on the dining table for every meal. I remember thinking my dad was crazy for eating peppers with all his food. Dad was ambidextrous and would write with his right hand and eat with his left. He always used a knife and fork and would put jalapeno slices on his plate and proceed to cut them into small bites to be eaten with his food. It wasn’t long before I as bitten by the capsaicin bug and jalapenos became my thing as well. Since then, the jalapeno has been part of my life.
During a Homecoming party at SMU where my wife, Susan and I went to school, I entered a jalapeno eating contest. The contest consisted of whoever could eat the most whole pickled jalapenos would win dinner for two to a really good local Mexican restaurant. I was the first contestant and proceeded to eat 26 whole peppers! They told us to come back later and check out where we finished since others would come by and challenge me. After several hours we stopped back by the pepper booth and guess what, I was the winner. No one else even tried after they found out how many I ate. Needless to say, we ate Mexican food about a week later.
In the Summer of 2011, my good friend Phil came to me with a problem. He grew a a beautiful back yard garden of jalapenos and was trying to figure out what to do with them. Phil made pepper jelly and I made salsa. We made 350 jars that summer and had it for sale and sold it all by Christmas time.
In 2012, Phil grew more jalapenos and we made about 3,500 jars of jelly and salsa and you got it, we sold it all!
So, in 2013 a good friend, Skidmore, gave us a plot of land up in Meridianville, Al, where Phil grew some really hot jalapenos. Phil decided to concentrate on the peppers and Van came on to help me out and boy has he. It takes lots of people to help build a brand and I have had some great help along the way.
In the Winter of 2015, I found a farmer, Campbell Farms, that was willing to grow me local jalapeno peppers. I gave him a check up front to let him know how serious I was about purchasing from him. We processed about 1,500 pounds of peppers that year. Then last year rolled around and Campbell helped us again by providing us about 2,700 pounds of peppers.
Now, 2017 is here and I had the amazing chance to meet Corey Martin and Brooke Adam from the Food Bank of North Alabama. They are part of the Farm/Food Collaborative and work to help Alabama farmers find buyers for their products. Luckily they introduced me to Whited Farms and now I have two Alabama farms providing jalapenos to us! This year our plan is to process about 4,000 pounds of jalapenos to meet our needs.
Many thanks to all the folks that have helped Jala Jala grow and especially to our customers that support us by buying and enjoying our awesome products. We hope that someday all will come to ‘Know the Glow”!!