Heated Failure: Salsa and Perspective


End of summer garden bounty.

I tried canning salsa – once.  I was 20 years old, and when I thought “salsa” I wanted the flavor of the acidic picante sauce of afternoons with my latchkey cousins;  the one with the yellow lid whose commercials featured cowboys threatening the makers of city-slicker salsa with an old fashioned hanging. “Get a rope,” they’d say, in a gravely voice riddled with disgust at the thought of salsa being made anywhere but Texas.  It never occurred to me that there may be other kinds of salsa in the world, nor did I think that the recipe I’d found would be more Yankee than Tex-Mex.  I prepped, diced, simmered, and canned a year’s worth of salsa with pride in my mother’s kitchen.  Only when I was done did I think to taste it: it was HORRIBLE.  Unpalatable beyond description, it was a sharp and pungent indigestion in a jar.  I declared homemade salsa a failed endeavor, figuring that some magical commercial process must exist and the edible version of this condiment could only be purchased at the supermarket.


Larry, Curly, and Moe enjoying salsa making scraps.

We are taught – programmed – to succeed as children, but very few of us (myself included) are ever taught how to fail.  The Salsa Catastrophe of Y2K is a prime example: I tried, I failed, I vowed to never make salsa, or ANY tomato based sauce for canning, again.  It took me a decade and a half to learn the virtues of failing gracefully.  What would happen if I took the opportunity to look at my botched batch and reverse-engineer both the product and the process?  I did exactly that last month.  I tried a different recipe, I experimented with familiar spice combinations, I tasted my product throughout the cooking process. I learned from mistakes made in the past and developed a new product.  I freaking nailed it.  In having the courage to face my past failure I was able to create one of my greatest successes.  This year’s salsa is top-notch, balanced, authentically Mexican, and so delicious that I’m considering a raffle to determine who gets a jar for Christmas.  Even better than my salsa is the perspective shift I’ve gained: failure is no longer an end, failure is a beginning for those with the grit to persist.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  – Thomas A. Edison




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