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Dec 19, 2013 07:13 AM

Lost Arts ('Hounds Talkin' About Love in the Prep)

So fine. I admit it. I'm a bone buryin', floppy eared, sometime leg-humpin', always sittin' under the table waitin' for scraps 'hound. I'm cool with that. I've been makin' food since the first time Mommy and Daddy "had new friends". Hell, I didn't even know they were the "old friends" back then. "C'est La Vie", eh, Chuck? Tune up the Gibson ES-350 - I can play a lick or two.

That bein' said, I am pretty,* as the twerkers say it, "old school", 'bout some things. I make barbecue they way I discovered it. I use the biggest cuts I can lay paws on. I cut logs with a chain saw and split pieces with an axe. I mix woods according to the meat. I modulate "temprtur" based upon humidity and wind direction. I measure time in beers consumed. Shit, I believe in alchemy, magic, and the power of the old gods. I find comfort in the sound of storm surf.

I still make pierogi with a couple tablespoons of yogurt in the dough - like Gammy did it. I make my leckvar filling with Polish brandy, some raisins, and prunes with pits, 'cause that's the way the old widows at St. Mary's in South River did it. "And, Hell, Son", that's the traditional way my original namesake liked 'em. Sh*t, I even still hold to the dogma that "OUR LORD" has some bug up his ass about not tastin' the pierogi filling with any meat in it when you put it together on Christmas Eve. Seasons Greetings, but get your seasonings right the first time!

Now, every summer, I grow lots of stuff in the garden I made outta the first part of my front lawn. Tomatoes**, chiles, herbs, eggplant, etc. But, I've never learned to pickled or can. While I'll preserve peppers in sauce or the freezer, I am truly "hat's off" to those who preserve Nature's Bounty. In fact, that's the kinda lost art I'm thinkin' about. Man, I read them "pickling" posts with a grin across my three day old stubble. Heartwarming (with a tinge of jealousy)!

So, please, my beloved 'hound friends, tell me 'bout the ways you carry the torch. Did you have a grandmother who had a secret latke fryin' fat combination you hold fast to? Do you say a prayer over your Christmas roast in a lost language? Take your bobka to get blessed by the parish priest?*** Do you still circumvent the science of an electric smoker for the glory of the blue smoke? Do you still bury kimche in the yard? Do you still use real pineapple and coconut for your pina colada? (By the way, this is a fun track: - Just scroll down a tad to the Walter Mitty screen) Do you still believe in the Spirit of Santa or the Power of the Full Moon? Do you hold to traditions no matter what "improvements" have been disclosed, even if it's simply borne out of tribute?

*Please read on, 'cause ain't many ladies who see this grizzard scowl as "pretty" unless it saves 'em from an even nastier lookin' ol' wolf.

**I live a half mile from the Atlantic after all.

***My Great Aunt Olga did this. She never wrote a recipe. Her cheese bobka was so good that folks fought over the toasted Easter leftovers 'til Memorial Day. Her son let me look through her "cookbooks" which yielded no information besides how many bottles of Canadian Club her husband bought between 1964 and 1968.

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  1. It's kinda funny, but a client of ours just dropped off a jar of pickled green tomatoes and onions in what she called a "sweet cure". I was struck by having posted this thread earlier and my respect for those who pickle, so I asked, "How long have you been doin' this?"

    Her reply was, "My Sister and I started helping our Stepmother years ago when my Dad first got sick. She had bad arthritis so basically she just talked us through her Aunt's recipes and all the boiling and all."

    "Wow, that's cool! Do you still do it with her?"

    "No, she passed a month or so before the Storm, but Dad loves it and still loves to garden, so every year, we go to his house and get to work. Personally, I hate tomatoes, but I love doing it."

    "That's fantastic!"

    "Nah, it's just something we feel that we need to do." She offered, somewhat apologetically.

    "Precisely. I love it! And, Merry Christmas!"

    "Wow, if you think that's great, you should see the ravioli my Sister-in-Law makes. She says it's her great-great grandmother's recipe and the eggs have to sit on the counter overnight before they can be mixed into the ricotta!"

    1. This is perhaps only slightly on point, but our family has a recipe a basic dinner bun recipe called "90 minute bums".

      The handwritten copy that my grandfather had said "90 minute bums", so when my mother and my aunts copied it, they copied it as "90 minutes bums", and when anyone in my generation has requested the recipe, it gets typed up and emailed as "90 minute bums". Ever shall that recipe be known as "90 minute bums" in our family, Autocorrect be damned.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Jacquilynne

        That ain't really off point, Jacq. In a way, it is, perfectly the point. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with what product shows up on the plate. It's about what we do to get it there, or what process we employ to get it there, or what appellation we ascribe to it, or whatever else about it gives it meaning.

        My Dad calls galumpki "pigeons" 'cause that's what his crusty* father did. Nevertheless, when I stuff cabbage, I only use meat from pigs and cow, and he still takes any leftovers home.

        * Crustiness appear to skip a generation. My Dad still wears pressed, Ralph Lauren shirts and tailored pants, but I favor his father's beat up khakis and stained, solid colored, tee shirt wardrobe. My Dad shaves every day while I share the patriarch's willingness to save the blade 'til the Lord's Day or having to go to a meeting.

      2. "Do you still use real pineapple and coconut for your pina colada?"

        Yes I do. I don't do liquor based drinks often but when I do, I use all real ingredients.

        There are members of my family whose pickling and canning borders on hoarding. My one great aunt had rows upon rows of canned fruits and veggies of all varieties in her basement. I always gagged on her applesauce (too smooth) and yearned for the store bought variety.

        2 Replies
        1. re: cleobeach

          Admittedly, I have never known any real "hoarders". I have, however, had some pretty lousy canned peaches and some even worse wine. Truth is, though, I found uses for the love in the glass.

          The peaches, thrown in a pan with butter, cloves, and brown sugar - then doused with rum and lit, made a fine topping for ice cream. My Uncle's wine would be turned into a vermouth-like substance when I added a bit of sugar, vodka, and cardamom pods to steep. The Manhattans made with it were never left unfinished during the Holiday season. Best if I had some of his Godfather's brandied cherries for a garnish.

          Maybe I'm just a crazy old romantic after all. I open doors for ladies and hold my wife's hand when we cross the street. Hell, after a decade and a half of marriage, I still will occasionally order for Mrs. Z when we go to dinner. Then again, give me a flint and some steel (as well as a fifth of somethin' 80 plus proof) and I can pretty much be good 'til the sun comes up on a new day.

          The thing I've been gettin' at here is, at bottom, please, folks, tell me how you put the "love in the glass". How do you still maintain the ability to conjure the power of the past, your penchants for the prestidigitation of the passed, the sorcery in the sauce, the mystical memories that manifest in the meal?

          Isn't there a little old lady with a bleached mustache, still wearin' black every day even though her husband died seventeen years before, in your mind's kitchen once in a while? Maybe an old pan that your Dad used to make the only dinner he could - some weird meatloaf with too much ketchup and his "secret ingred'nt" that you still don't have any idea what the f*ck it was? Even if you still have that pan only to make duck confit in?

          Surely, I'm not so selfishly surly as to be the sole soul to subscribe to the suspicion that superstition can support a super supper?* I ain't stepped on a sidewalk crack since a week before Reagan's wife dared me to take drugs, and, even though I'm not a god-fearin' fella, I still think that Dean Martin's Christmas album is what makes this time of year precious. Hell, tomorrow, the days start gettin' longer - the pagens were onto a good idea where they made Constantine put his Saviour's birth date on the upturn of the Northern Hemisphere.

          *Sorry, but the alliteration key was on again.

          1. re: MGZ

            Tonight I will serve our cocktail hour snacks on the same cheese board my father used. I took it from his house (with his blessing) even before he passed away. I swear cheese and meats taste better when eaten off of it.

            On Tuesday, a man helped me with my coat after a board meeting. It was the first time I met him and it was like I felt a ghost, no one has helped me with my coat since my father passed away.

        2. For me it's risotto. It needs continual stirring and it always needs to be in the same direction, which for me is clockwise.
          I know there are so called easier methods such as not stirring or god forbid doing it in the oven, This though completely misses the point. The continual need for constant love and attention ,makes preparing a risotto a soothing experience. It's similar with making a bechamel. I still stick to the old fashioned butter, then flour, add the milk very slowly and stir , stir ans stir some more.

          1 Reply
          1. The Virgin of Guadalupe

            Never put the loaf of bread on the table, cutting board, whatever, upside down (from my grandmother)

            Use bacon fat to make fried potatoes (also grandmother)

            The planting of oregano, from seeds whose lineage can be traced to my greatgrandfather

            The celebratory discharge of firearms, at midnight, New Years (grandfather)

            1 Reply
            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              "Never put the loaf of bread on the table, cutting board, whatever, upside down"

              from my mom...