Month 7: Firefly Smokin’ Apple & Tear Jerker (January 2013)

Hello Hot Sauce Lovers! Still catching up with our review for January, but here it is!

This month we get to try Firefly Smokin’ Apple Hot Sauce and Firefly Tear Jerker Hot Sauce from Passage Creek Farm in FORT VALLEY, VIRGINIA! 

Name: Smokin’ Apple Hot Sauce & Tear Jerker Hot Sauce
Origin: Fort Valley, Virginia, USA
Creator: Todd Bolender and Family
Pepper: Chilies, Chocolate Habaneros


Todd Bolender started a farm about 6 years ago and started selling produce at a local farmers’ market. One of his fellow vendors gave him a bunch of chocolate habaneros to try, so he took them home and tried some with dinner, and was hooked. Todd thought, “I need to try and make a hot sauce out of these peppers”. Todd made his first sauce about 5 years ago and realized how addicted people got when they would try it. When he tried to sell the hot sauce at the farmers’ market he was told that it was an acidified food and he would have to get licensed and register with the FDA. After taking classes he decided that if he was going to go for it, he would develop an entire line of sauces, and came up with 6 great flavors.

Todd now has a commercial kitchen on his farm and is registered with the state and the FDA. Todd says, “I always liked cooking and enjoyed spicy foods so I just combined the two together.” Todd also does all of his own processing. Once Todd got everything off the ground and realized how popular the sauces were at his farmers market, he expanded into festivals, and then started online sales, “It has been going great”, he adds.

Hot Sauce Review:

I ordered the Firefly hot sauce right off their website. It was easy enough to do through an eBay shopping cart setup through their Passage Creek Farm website, and the sauces arrived within a couple of days, all packaged up and bubble wrapped for a safe journey.

The Smokin’ Apple hot sauce is what piqued my interest – I’ve been enjoying the fruit based hot sauces over the past few months (pineapple, mango, orange) and apple was a new flavor, which surprisingly isn’t as common as I thought it would be. The Tear Jerker was for the Hot Sauce Club because everyone wants to try the hottest one producer has to offer. I like the heat, don’t get me wrong, but when I’m really hungry I find I can go over board with it, and Tear Jerker isn’t one you want to get too crazy with.

This week I am on the go quite a bit and I know I wasn’t going to have a lot of time to get in the kitchen with a home cooked meal, so I went out to the local El Pollo Loco and got some of their fire grilled chicken. This, I thought, would be perfect for both the Smokin’ Apple and the Tear Jerker ..and I was right. Whoot! Super easy.

The really great thing about Smokin’ Apple is that it’s pretty smokey, and sweet, but not super-duper hot, which is OK. I poured a bunch out in a shallow bowl and proceeded to dunk the grill fired chicken. It was Smokey-sweet with a tangy kick! This is a perfect dipping sauce for any number of finger foods.

Second taste was the Firefly Tear Jerker hot sauce, and oh, BOY was it hot! Way more kick than the smokin’ Apple.  Tear Jerker comes with the flow-control cap on top that allows you to splash out this fiery sauce with moderation ..of course O just popped that right off with a knife and poured some out on a plate and started dippin’ …If you like it hot, this one is for you. Hot, smokey, thick and rich, with a bite you feel all the way to the back of your throat. I was fighting the watery-eyes and cold sweats with this one. Cold beer, cold beer, cold beer….

The pepper and chilies in the Tear Jerker are definitely a kick in the pants ..if you like it hot, you’ll enjoy it. The Smokin’ Apple was perfect for this grilled chicken dish, and definitely a sauce to keep handy for anything you throw on the BBQ. I used a third of the bottle …it was awesome. The Tacate beer was what I needed to keep it cool.

Both sauces are fairly thick, rich and chunky, but well blended. It’ll take me some time to finish off the Tear Jerker as it is a sauce I will probably add to chili or stews. I am pretty sure I won’t be using Tear Jerker so much as a straight-up dipping sauce …it’s just too hot for that, but that’s just me. The bottle Smokin’ Apple is already gone – before I began writing this review, I put it on a pulled-pork dish and a chicken salad sandwich – absolutely loved it.

Todd has a number of hot sauce flavors coming out of his kitchen, from Cosmic Curry to Garlic Fire and a Kickin’ Cayenne, but from what I read on his Facebook page, Tear Jerker is the hottest flavor they have going. It’s hot enough for me. The Smokin’ Apple is a very good balance of fresh smokey-sweet apple and spice that I found goes with just about anything. I had a pineapple hot sauce (Island Hopper from High Octane Hot Sauces) that was completely used up in a day or two, just like Firefly’s Smokin’ Apple. Delicious.

Recap of Firefly Smokin’ Apple and Tear Jerker Hot Sauce Review:

Best pairings (Smokin’ Apple): Anything from the grill from chicken to ahi tuna – use this.
Best pairings (Tear Jerker): Add this to saucy dishes to bring a bold heat – stew, chili, soups.
Texture and Appearance:  Medium thickness with apple and pepper chunks blended throughout.
Taste (Smokin’ Apple):  Fresh apple cider vinegar flavor, brown sugar and garlic taste. Heat comes from chilies and possibly there is some Chocolate Habanero but it doesn’t list them on the ingredients so have to assume it’s all chili-heat. Slight smokey character maybe from the apple, raisin and brown sugar combo.
Taste (Tear Jerker):  Lots of heat and a vinegar kick ..of course those are the first two  ingredients. It’s a biting heat with a lime flavor that wraps it all up on your lips.
Heat Scale : Smokin’ Apple is 4/10 …Tear Jerker is a 8.5/10
Awards and Recognition: Todd has to get these sauce out to a few festivals as I am sure  they will start bringing him some recognition.
Ingredients (Smokin’ Apple): Apple, Vinegar, Brown Sugar, Raisins, Apple Juice, Chilies, Garlic, Salt.
Ingredients (Tear Jerker): Chilies, Vinegar, Garlic, Lime Juice, Sugar, Salt.
Graphics/Packaging:  5 oz glass bottles designed with their own little Fire Fly mascot character of course ..”It will Light Your Ass Up!”  The labeling includes some serving suggestions, ingredients and what looks like a lot number. You’ll want to SHAKE WELL, because these sauces are thick …and ‘Refrigerate After Opening’, as recommended on the label. The labels are in color, probably printed on the farm, and clearly list the web address and mailing address if you want to contact them.


Final Thoughts: I will add Smokin’ Apple to my list of favorite fruit-based hot sauces and the Tear Jerker is going into my next big pot of chili. I enjoyed them both and may actually order some of the other flavors from Passage Creek Farm to try – Hard working small batch artisan producers deserve your support, so don’t hesitate to visit their website and order some for yourself. I should have asked where the Firefly name came from ..I can only assume the Fort Valley area of Virginia sees lots of them in the summer. (To try this hot sauce, and many more like it join the Club!)

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