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Blake Pontchartrain: Crystal Hot Sauce and Baumer Foods 

From Mexico to World War II to liquid smoke

click to enlarge This Crystal Preserves sign in Mid-City was installed in 2010 and is a replica of a World War II-era sign that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

This Crystal Preserves sign in Mid-City was installed in 2010 and is a replica of a World War II-era sign that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Hey Blake,

I drive past the big Crystal Preserves sign on the Pontchartrain Expressway every day. I'm familiar with Crystal Hot Sauce, but what can you tell me about their other products?

Dear reader,

  Crystal Hot Sauce was indeed bottled at that location in the 4300 block of Tulane Avenue from the 1940s until the federal levee failures flooded the building following Hurricane Katrina. The building housed Baumer Foods, which makes Crystal Hot Sauce, as well as preserves, jellies, sauces and other products.

  Baumer Foods began in 1923 on Tchoupitoulas Street, when Alvin Baumer Sr. purchased Mill's Fruit Products, a company that made snowball syrups. Along with the syrups came a recipe for a hot sauce called Crystal Louisiana Pure Hot Sauce. Cayenne peppers used in the sauce were grown in northern Mexico, then transported to New Orleans, where they were mixed with vinegar and salt.

  Hot sauce may be Baumer's best-known product now, but during World War II the company had military contracts to provide canned vegetables and small tins of jams that were included in C-Rations for soldiers. During the war, the company moved its production to Tulane Avenue, where its neon art deco sign, featuring a chef stirring a steaming pot of strawberry jam — yes, with steam coming out of the pot — became a local landmark. A 1950 story in The New Orleans Item said the company also canned sweet potatoes and shrimp. A 1978 advertisement for Schwegmann's supermarket advertised Crystal's peach, pineapple and strawberry preserves and apple and grape jellies. For years, Crystal also produced mustard and barbecue sauce, and it bottled products for other companies. Today Baumer products include hot sauce as well as steak, soy and Worcestershire sauces, liquid smoke and more.

  Baumer died in 1991. His son, Alvin Jr., and grandson, Alvin III (known as Pepper), now run the family business. In 2006, the company relocated its headquarters to Metairie and moved its production to a former plastics plant in St. John the Baptist Parish. The Tulane Avenue building was sold and converted into an apartment complex called The Preserve. The iconic sign was destroyed in Katrina, but a replica was created and installed in 2010.

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