Texas: Hill Country Heat

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Story & Photos by Jim Fergusson 

Hill Country Heat


Piri-Piri Sauce

Cuvée Piri-Piri Sorbet




Guten morgen, amigo. What’ll you have today?”

It was hardly the greeting you’d expect from a food vendor at one of Texas’ largest and most publicized Oktoberfest celebrations. In Fredericksburg, though, that’s just the way it is! All American! Here, as in many other parts of this great country, east meets west, meets north meets south meets east! Where else would you find menus featuring bratwurst, kraut, sausage in a tortilla, and German gorditas served with a stir-fry chicken/veggie taco side? As the billboard said, “It’s Texas, Think Big!”

A Mild Oktoberfest

Although the flavor of the crowd was definitely an ethnic mix, the theme was all German. A Volksmusik Polka wafted across the square from the music pavilion. An accordion player, accompanied by tuba, played in the center of the square, greeting visitors as they arrived. A little girl carrying a roasted turkey leg almost as big as she was smiled up at me as I sipped a Shiner Bock from my cup. I made a note of Opa’s (Grandfather’s) and The Dutchman’s Market, two of the sausages that were featured.

Welcome to Fredericksburg Oktoberfest!




Welcome to Fredericksburg Oktoberfest!




The kids were having a great time at the rock climbing wall and the space walk. The Arts and Crafts tents were in full swing. Everyone had a smile on their face but I couldn’t find anything laced with capsaicin! I noticed a guy across the square with a brightly decorated shirt. Oh, Hawaii is represented too, I surmised. As I got closer my mood brightened! It was a chile pepper shirt. If anyone knows where to find the heat here it will be him, I thought.

“Hey Chilehead! You been able to find anything hot at any of the booths?” I queried.

“Naw, man, I got excited when I saw salsa over at that booth sellin’ the tacos and gorditas, but its mostly tomato, green pepper, and cilantro. No heat.” Turns out he was there with six other people, all from Austin. We had some friendly fraternal conversation about the fruit of the Capsicum and how much we craved it.

Habanero Hill Country

After they left, one of the locals gave me a tap on the shoulder and said that he had overheard our conversation. He gave me a card from a company in town and told me that these guys are growing habaneros right here in the Hill Country. I reached for my cell phone.

“AzTex Pepper Farms,” said a male voice on the other end. I explained to him who I was and why I was in Fredericksburg and that I would like to talk to him about his operation. “Sure, c’mon over. We’re just up the street a ways. We’ll meet you outside the building.”

AzTex Pepper Farms has a small office in the middle of town in an historic Fredericksburg building sharing its back yard with one of the “Sunday Houses” that were built by German settlers in the middle 1800s. The settlers from outlying regions would come into town on Saturday for supplies and to sell their produce and meat on the hoof. Since the trip back to their homesteads was too much to accomplish in one day, they would stay over until Sunday before starting the trip back home–thus the term Sunday House.

Early German settler's Sunday House



Early German settler’s Sunday House



Dennis, his brother Gregg, and I chatted in the office for a few minutes, then Gregg suggested that we go to the farm and check out the crop. While driving out to the farm they explained to my wife Ribby and me that AzTex was started and is being run by the three brothers, Dennis, Greg, and Jeff Dicker, along with Dave Wilson. And boy do they love habaneros! Of the 300 acres available on FM 290 about 15 miles from Fredericksburg, they have 40 of those acres in habanero cultivation. All of the seedlings are planted through plastic sheeting. “Habaneros love to have warm feet,” says Gregg, speaking of the plants’ roots.

“Good for the roots,” I said “but do you get enough rainfall?”

“We don’t have to depend on summer rains. We have a water well and use trickle irrigation. That way when it comes time to stress the plants we can do it without fear of over-stress.”

The Dickers expect a year-end first harvest of some 250 to 300 tons of ‘Caribbean Red’ and yellow habaneros. The blistering hot pods will be mechanically harvested.

Habanero seedlings planted through plastic



Habanero seedlings
planted through plastic



Meanwhile, brother Jeff is negotiating for more acreage in Arizona. They plan to expand their operation as demand calls for more production. “Our mission is to become the premier grower of habanero peppers in the United States. We are going after the fresh produce market, the pharmaceutical market, self protection, insect and marine growth control, mash, powder, and wet markets.” said Dennis with a set jaw.

All well and good, I thought. More heat for the world of Chileheads and even the possibility that some termites and zebra mussels might join the ranks of heat seeking Homo sapiens! But all this talk was not helping my craving for something hot. I had just taken pictures of chile fields that had surrounded me! Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink. I had been afloat in a sea of habaneros but not one pod to eat! My endorphin level was dangerously low. Even the stop we made at one of the several wineries that we had passed on the way to the farm didn’t ease my urgency for a capsaicin rush.

When we arrived back at the AzTex office, I explained that if I didn’t get something hot soon, I would surely perish. With that, Gregg picked up the phone and as he dialed he said, “You gotta have the Piri-Piri Shrimp at Cuvée!” Now we’re talking, I thought; Piri-Piri, Hot-Hot in several languages! I could feel my pores open, my lips begin to pulsate, my nose build mucous, and my mouth start to salivate at the very thought of Capsicum heat bonded with the flavor of a saltwater crustacean! My quest was coming to fruition! German composer Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” was playing in my head!

A Vatful of Piri-Piri

The restaurant was not open, but Gregg prevailed upon one of the owners, and the executive chef who agreed to open up the side door to the market entrance and prepare a sampling of their Piri-Piri Shrimp.

Ribby (who is not a chilehead) and I were met in the kitchen area of the small restaurant by Chef Dean Brunner, Kim Brunner, and Stephanie White who, with her husband Len, own Cuvée, which is a bistro, market, and wine bar. The French word means “vatful.” Texas folk take a back seat to no one (except maybe Louisiana folk) when it comes to hospitality. While the chef was preparing our sampling, we took a tour of their homey dining and bar area and the wine cellar. They have a sizeable wine list featuring many of the wines of Texas Hill Country.

Ribby with the Piri-Piri Shrimp with sauce and Piri-Piri Sorbet



Ribby with the Piri-Piri Shrimp
with sauce and Piri-Piri Sorbet



Finally, we were back in the kitchen seated at one of the small tables. Ribby had a chilled glass of Hill Country Gewurztraminer in front of her. Being a Celt, I had a top heavy glass of Guinness. My anticipation grew. Chef Dean walked toward us with a platter of marinated grilled shrimp, pink with dark sear marks across their plump bodies lying prostrate on a bed of fresh garden greens. In the center of the platter was a dish of amber sauce. At last, I thought, heat!

Wow! The shrimp were succulent and had had just enough flame to cook through but not overcook. And the Piri-Piri Sauce… fiery, flavorful, fabulous. Ribby ate just shrimp while I scooped up massive quantities of the sauce with each shrimp body. It was an eye-closing, look up at the sky, groaning, happy experience!

I thought that was all, but I was in for another delightful experience at Cuvée. Stephanie walked over with a wonderful smile on her face carrying two martini glasses filled with scoops of an icy substance. The glasses were decorated with a long Thai pepper “stirrer,” and a slice of lime sat on the rim. What was this, I thought. Stephanie and Kimberly explained that it was a Piri-Piri Sorbet, made from the same sauce that went into the shrimp condiment but with added sugar and citrus juices. What confusion for the taste buds. Cool, then pungent, cool, then you felt the heat. Even Ribby was entrance by its effect. What a perfect Chilehead experience.

The Dutchman’s Sausages

Lightning, thunder, and driving rain greeted us the next morning as we drove the undulating, curvy road from Kerrville to Fredericksburg. We wouldn’t feel as though we’d covered the whole Hill Country scene unless we checked the inner workings of one of the German sausage makers of the area. First stop was Opa’s, right in downtown Fredericksburg. Unfortunately, no one could give us information or a tour of the plant; they were all at a hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque! We picked up a well-produced brochure and headed to the Dutchman’s Market.

Dutchman’s Market owner Barry Beyer checks the moisture content of



Dutchman’s Market owner
Barry Beyer checks the moisture
content of “dry sausage”



What a fun place and good Texas people! Owner/manager, Barry Beyer, gave us a walk-thru of the entire operation. On our way to the processing area, head covering and eye protection in place, I naively asked if I could take pictures of the smoke room. Barry smiled and said, “sure.” We came up to the smoke room and Barry opened the massive door. Oops! No pictures here! I was enveloped in a cloud of hardwood smoke! Barry smiled again. The smell of the bacon smoking stayed with me for hours after we left. Is there anything better than the smell of bacon in the morning? The drying room was a different story. The door opened to a large room with spotless white walls and ceiling. Dehumidifying units hummed in one corner and fans kept the air in motion. Well over a thousand pounds of sausage hung on racks. Barry told us this was a small batch. The market ships out mail orders of the dried sausage and jerky, turkey jerky being one of their biggest sellers, along with their salami.

Dutchman’s Market also had a good selection of hot sauces, hot jellies, preserves, and cookbooks in the over the counter area. And I can vouch for the sausage. I had two on–a-stick at the Oktoberfest celebration slathered with German mustard. Great with a cold beer!

The worst thing about a long car trip to somewhere is the even longer drive back from whence you came. Thinking about some of our eight-count Louisiana jumbo shrimp grilled on my hibachi and a duplication of Chef Brunner’s Piri-Piri Sauce was the carrot on the pole in front of the donkey that kept me on a steady 70 m.p.h to the New Orleans city limits!

Contact Information:

AzTex Pepper Farms, LLC

Dennis Dicker

312 W. San Antonio, Ste. 209     

Fredericksburg, TX 78624

830-990-2565 phone

830-990-2564 fax


Cuvée Bistro Market and Wine Bar     

342 W. Main St

Fredericksburg, TX 78624

(830) 990.1600 (tel)

(830) 997.4878 (fax)


Barry Beyer

Dutchman’s Market, Inc.

1609 E. Main

Fredericksburg, TX 78624-5407



Piri-Piri Sauce

Cuvée Executive Chef Dean Brunner notes: “It consists of habaneros (and a few other seriously hot donations from local fans), plus jalapeños. We like the burn to have great spirit but also be well balanced.” He suggests marinating the shrimp in the sauce for at least an hour before grilling them.

Shrimp with Piri-Piri Sauce   Shrimp with Piri-Piri Sauce

  • 1 red bell bepper, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped

  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped

  • 4 jalapeno chiles, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped

  • 4 mirasol chiles, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped

  • 4 habanero chiles, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped

  • 2 rocotillo chiles, seeds and stems removed, coarsely chopped (or substitute serranos)

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

  • 1 cup white wine vinegar

  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except the oil in a blender or food processor. Pulse blend until somewhat smooth. Pour into a jar and mix in the oil and salt and pepper. Note that chiles vary with seasonal availability.

Yield: About 2 cups

Heat Scale: Hot

Cuvée Piri-Piri Sorbet

Cuvée Piri-Piri Sorbet   Fire & Ice: Piri-Piri Sorbet

This is the sweet heat dessert that perfectly finished the shrimp dish at Cuvée. Chef Dean says that you can use lemon, lime, or grapefruit, juice, or a combination. I’ll bet you could use orange juice if you wished.

  • 2 cups citrus juice

  • 2 ¼ cups simple syrup (thickened sugar water)

  • 1/3 cup Piri-Piri Sauce

Combine all and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

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