Small-town Christmas: Mother Hanks’ Hot Sauce

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1969, Sioux City, Iowa

When Ma Bell forced my dad into retirement at 58 to make way for the young, mean drones, he and Muth moved from Nebraska to Vashon Island. My heart was broken. What about Sunday dinner? How will we watch Yankee games in color? Who will babysit on bridge night? What will my kids do without their grandparents? When will I see them again? I know, I know, it wasn’t about me. I remember standing on the front steps of our just-sold family home, holding my two-year old son, watching their car back out of the driveway. 

Anyways, that year was rough. Their first visit home was at Christmas, coming in to Omaha on an early evening flight from Seattle. We woke up in the morning to scattered snow showers; by noon, there were flurries; by sunset, drifts. Flights arriving from the East were cancelled, flights from the West, delayed. Snowplows were out, highway travel was tricky. What to do? 

Dun da da dun! Dick’s new all-wheel drive Jeep to the rescue. He had inherited the car from his brother that summer and was itching to try out the adjustable drive feature that promised travel across any treachery. As per the car culture of the day, the kids floated untethered in the back seat while in the front seat, the adults relaxed without the restriction of seatbelts. Once out of the driveway, Dick jockeyed the gearshift into “Extreme” and we sped through the snow all the way to Omaha and back. The day was saved, our holiday was merry and bright, and it was the last Christmas I spent with my Dad. So, as Warren Zevon would say, “Enjoy every Christmas.”


1986, Vashon, Washington

One of my mother’s best parenting traits was her willingness to accept our choices without trying to make us feel guilty. All three of us disappointed her at one time or another but she once told me, “I don’t have to like what you do, but I always like who you are.” When the sisters were together as adults, laughing wildly or hooting inappropriately, she would shake her head and say, “Oh you girls.” We did shine at Christmas, though. 

Nikki drove from San Diego (with all four of her cats), the car packed with everything necessary for Christmas Eve tacos. The Sweetie and I came from LA, flying because I couldn’t get much time off. Ginny and Ron lived down the road, so they were already part of the fabric of Muth’s life. 

One Christmas Muth arranged to have a family portrait taken by a professional photographer. She insisted that we dress up, put on our “big girl shoes”, and drive in to Seattle. As we were trooping in to the studio from the parking lot, Ginny noticed that Nikki had stepped on three-year old Andrew’s little plastic train and it was still stuck to her high heel, dragging along on the sidewalk as she walked. We three lost all composure, doubling over in hysteria, almost peeing our collective pants. Every time we got a grip, one sister would look sideways at another and it would start up again. The photographer threatened, Muth scolded, but the mood was set. The picture turned out spectacularly—everyone was smiling.



Nikki made her own salsa by the quart and brought jars of it with her every Christmas. When I returned to Sound Food in 1989, her recipe came with me. We made gallons of it, using a grinder attached to Bob the Baker’s Hobart once he was gone for the day.

Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce 

  • 4# Roma tomatoes or 2 large cans diced-in juice tomatoes 
  • ½ red onion 
  • ½ Serrano 
  • ½ green pepper 
  • 2 stalks celery 
  • 1 bunch cilantro (cut off just below the leaves) 
  • 1 small can tomato juice 
  • 1/2 t. cumin 
  • 3 shakes of Tabasco 
  • 2 t. salt  
  • juice of three limes  
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon minced chipotles in juice, depending on your hotness tolerance

Fine dice or Cuisinart onions, drain, and reserve. You want the onions to be small and you don’t want the onion juice to overpower the salsa. 

Grind remaining ingredients in Kitchenaid grinder attachment. 

Stir in reserved onions and chipotle.

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