Tabasco: An Illustrated History: The Story of the McIlhenny Family of Avery Island, Louisiana - Shane K. Bernard 

University Press of Mississippi

Once upon a time, I thought my father was crazy for mixing Tabasco pepper sauce into ketchup. Now, my cast-iron stomach and I can't have ketchup otherwise.

Still, I'll admit I didn't know the first thing about Tabasco except that Dan Aykroyd puts it on "everything humans can consume," according to the sauce's early-Nineties ad campaign. That's all remedied in the coffee-table book "Tabasco: An Illustrated History: The Story of the McIlhenny Family of Avery Island, Louisiana."

Company curator Shane K. Bernard's book proves there was one good thing to emerge from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. As explained in the foreword, a Tabasco museum was in the works until the weather changed that; the substitute for the not-to-be site is this work.

Initially produced in cork-top bottles, the true origin of the sauce "? on the market since 1868 "? actually remains unknown, because founder Edmund McIlhenny never made a record of it. However, there's still plenty of history. For instance, its popularity "? slow to catch fire, contrary to assumption "? spawned a full burlesque opera in late-19th-century Boston.

Edmund's family is rife with good stories as well, from son John's sharpshooting, rough-riding stint with the U.S. Cavalry to son Ned's expeditions in the Arctic, but it's the iconic diamond-labeled sauce that's at the center. So what if the company's Mexican Vanilla Extract or Fresh Figs didn't go over so hot? Lightning can't always strike twice.

Generously illustrated and in full color, the book has a real draw as a historical document with its many period photographs and "? even better "? vintage advertising material. Attempts at merchandising also amuse.

But the book also works another level: satisfying how hungry it will make you, with 16 recipes included, from veal loaf and Betty Grable's Spanish hash to the perfect Bloody Mary and "? Dad was onto something "? tomato ketchup.

"?Rod Lott

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