Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our food

Have you ever heard of grilled bologna smothered in barbecue sauce? Do you split open your hot dogs and fry them black in a pan? Squirt ketchup on your pizza or mustard on your eggs? Do you dip your toast in cocoa, eat pineapple with green olives off a toothpick, or brine your freshly caught trout in pickle juice?

Is ham or beef on your Thanksgiving table instead of turkey? (Sacrilege!)

Ah, food traditions and habits! One man's barely edible garbage is another's culinary treasure.

My relatives on Dad's side grilled bologna with barbecue sauce for a family reunion many years ago. My husband was shocked. He has yet to recover from the idea of such a thing being put on a grill on purpose. He also is haunted by the fact that my dad ate charred hot dogs regularly as I was growing up. But dare I point out that his family eats their spaghetti with cornbread and green chili in their stew?

As for me, I used to dip my pizza in ketchup, and my kids and I still dip whole grain toast in cocoa (something my sister Vinca says our Grandmama did decades ago). But the only time I had pickle-juice fish was around a summer campfire at my great grandfather's mining claim in the Idaho mountains, prepared especially by my Grandpa on Dad's side.

The strangest dining choices sometimes create the best memories. They're unique, our very own, and I believe we get a perverse enjoyment out of others' looks of disgust as we tell our digestive tales.

But we must also acknowledge the more sophisticated treasures of our familial or even regional palette, the ones for which we pine for most of the year, knowing they arrive only on special feasts. For instance, homemade Parker House rolls, the kind my mother made and that my youngest boy has been asking for ever since he got the first whiff of approaching Thanksgiving, are something that I begin to make a lot more often November through New Year's. There's also my mama's sweet potato souffle, a dish that makes my heart swell like marshmallow topping as I watch my kids devour it. And we could never forget the hard labor of love with acute suffering involved in making homemade pie pastry and filling, a magic act that we cooking mortals will only commit to two or three times a year. There are so many varieties with which to torture ourselves when the terrible yet fulfilling time comes: apple, pumpkin, pecan, cherry, and cranberry/pear! God bless the person who invented scrumptious pies for the good of humanity! But may they still be crimping pastry wherever they are.

I'll be making my pies tonight. I'm only writing this right now in order to get my courage up, a pep talk, a rallying cry to acknowledge that sometimes we can, out of love, produce the impossible confectionery dream on blessed occasions. If the stars line up, and the dew point is right, and the inspiration of all our grandmothers and mothers settles in our hearts and hands, our pies might just turn out this year.

But I can't worry about that now. I'm getting hungry; it's lunchtime; and I have a sudden, inexplicable craving for barbecued bologna.

With pickle juice.

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