On occasion, our weekly market set-up can be somewhat brutal. The trucks begin to circle around 2pm, shaking dust into the air from a summer’s drought. Boxes are unloaded, bungee cords are wrangled, tents painstakingly popped and tables set. This is not always the most enjoyable experience, especially in the sweltering heat. But during our toil and drudgery, there is a special moment when the faint sounds of George Harrison’s guitar can be heard in the distance, and every vendor stops and looks up from beneath a sweaty brow. An arriving vendor blasts the Beatles White Album from the speakers of his pick-up truck, and everyone smiles in the afternoon sun. This is how Ric Ousley of Ousley Ouch salsa greets us every Wednesday at the ENFM. With a grin, a wave, a truck full of tasty salsas, and great music floating through the dusty air.
One look at Ric, and you can tell he is a cool guys. He is ponytailed, forever barefoot, and clad in a pair of wayfarer glasses, yet he is as friendly and approachable as he is unique. He is a true Southern gentleman, in every sense of the word. He was born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi, on a small family farm consisting of some cattle and gardens. He describes it as a “dirty stinkin’ town” (which is a direct quote from a Steve Forbert song, he says) due to Laurel’s high number of chicken farms and the plywood manufacturing plant. He grew up with one brother and a sister, and though the town was small, he and his brother could leave Laurel and be in the city of New Orleans in 3 hours flat, he says. Growing up on the farm, he developed a love for the Beatles (influenced by his older sist’er obsession at the time) and fresh produce grown in his family’s garden. He came to Tennessee in 1985, and after having difficulty finding a salsa that met his and his sister’s standards, he began to create his own. This is how the first recipe for Ousley Ouch was created: Out of necessity for a salsa that not only tasted delicious, but that was hot enough, too.
As time passed, his salsa’s reputation grew. He made it for friends, family, parties, and holidays. But when the demand out grew Ric’s ability to supply, he began to entertain the thought of starting a business and selling a line of his very own salsas. He took a jar to Barry Burnette at the Produce Place on Murphy Road, said he wanted to sell it, and asked what he needed to do to make it happen. A couple years later and with Barry as his mentor, Ousley Ouch salsa was officially in the works.
In the beginning, Ric and his wife Haseena were preparing the salsa by hand. They rented catering kitchens on Sundays when they were vacant and the Produce Place was their first real market. They offered two different varieties back then: Mild and Hot. Now, Ousley Ouch salsa can be found in approximately 60 stores statewide, including Whole Foods and Publix. They make over 2,500 jars of salsa per month at a semi-automated industrial kitchen in Lebanon, TN, called the Cumberland Culinary Center. Now, Ric offers 4 different varieties in ascending order of heat level: Mild, Peach and Mango, Hot, and Ghost.
Every jar is filled with the best ingredients Ric can find. All the peppers used are grown on local Green Door Gourmet farm here in Nashville, and so far he has purchased almost 800 pounds of their jalapenos this year alone. He held taste tests with his friends to choose the right canned tomatoes before settling on the popular Red Gold Brand. The peaches and mangoes in his sweet and tart salsa are chunky and fresh tasting with no added sugar, because he wants you to actually taste the fruit. He also has a new variety he is tinkering with that he hopes to name “Ridicul-Ousely,” and ridiculously hot it will be, containing the world’s two hottest peppers, the Carolina Reeper, and the Trinidad Scorpion.
After our interview, I’m certain Ric has one thing for sure, in addition to a friendly disposition. He has good taste. Great taste, in fact, and not just in music. He knows how to make a quality, fresh, and healthy product, and make it taste fantastic, too. If you visit the East Nashville Farmers Market stop by Ric’s tent and taste them for yourself. He has samples available at all times with a flavor to fit your taste buds. And if you stick around long enough while the market winds down, you might get lucky and hear a riff or two of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
For further information and to make online purchases, visit their website at www.ousleyouch.com. You can also find a video here about Ousley Ouch Salsa that recently aired on Live Green Treen.
Submitted by Rebecah Boynton