Monday, January 16, 2017

MIRACLE PIE



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Tomorrow is our Gracie’s birthday, all grown up from the tiny toddler girl she was when she and her Mommy came to live with us for a year and a half.  We had so many wonderful moments and playtimes and adventures during those close-at-home years, from waking to her request for “coffee” to bedtime prayers naming each and every relative, pet, doll and stuffed animal who loved her.   

I’ve been reminiscing over the sweet days when we had such a close bond, and how it’s had to stretch mightily as they moved so far away.   They’re now within an hour and a half, and perhaps we’ll get to celebrate together soon.   One of my sweetest memories is a Thanksgiving when she was about five, and very fond of helping out in the kitchen.   She always had her own little aprons and tiny set of kitchen tools.

She and Caro and I had spent the afternoon of Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving making pies---sweet potato and pecan and lemon, and she had punched out little leaves and flowers and all sorts of beautiful decorations. We arrayed them grandly around the margins, crimped them into the edges, and scattered them atop, crusted with sugar.

When we finished the three, there was one of the roll-up crusts left in the box. She said "Let's make a CHERRY pie!!!" I said I don't think we have any cherries; she smiled me the patient smile we’d reserve for a gently-addled aunt and said, "See, there they are---Cherries!" And they were, right where she pointed---on the crust box. So, as not to undo any child's fancy of the magical power of being in Ganjin's kitchen, I went unhopefully to the pantry, knowing I hadn’t bought a can of pie filling in a coon’s age.

And there, atop everything else, front and center, over the tuna and the Del Monte beans, the crushed pineapple and the Campbell's, with the beam of that 100-watt hitting it like the Gleam of Glory, sat a can of Lucky Leaf, shining in the shelf-light. Not a mote of dust, not a sign of its having lived a moment in that pantry---I'm convinced it sprang to life as I hit the light switch---soft strains of angel-song in the background, and a swell of harps.

And it was a LOVELY pie; we ate every bite for Supper dessert, and I so wish she could be here tomorrow to celebrate her birthday.  I know I haven't bought any pie filling in a long time, but miracles do happen.






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Saturday, January 14, 2017

SUMMER IN A SPOON



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Apropos of nothing except that I saw a young woman make and construct the most elaborately beautiful Napoleon on one of the Baking Shows last night, with perfect planks of just-made puff sandwiched with poufs of cream and the most enormous shining blackberries---I’m thinking of blackberry cobbler.

Blackberries are a Summer thought, of course, strange on these iron-hard cold days, except for a spoonful from that preciously-hoarded pint of blackberry preserves from last year’s crop grown by friends Lil and Ben, and brought to us on their travels.   The very thought conjures steamy mornings, both outside braving the brambles for those elusive globules of colour and sweet, and inside over the canning kettles as the blub and simmer turn the fruit into such a lively, lovely mass of remembered moments: fresh-opened biscuits with butter melting within, or a piece of slumpy-toast with a smear of purple sweetness cuddled within the warmth.


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A church supper with Aunt Bessie setting down her perfectly-latticed 9x13 of Blackberry Cobbler was a moment in time that I’d love to recapture.



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  And Auntie Bond made the most wonderfully-memorable cobblers with “Sankers” in them---a crust laid into the bottom of the big blue-and-white roaster-pan, a great sluice of sugared berries and juice poured in, then a smaller top crust laid on atop the filling.  As the cobbler baked, the top crust cooked for a while, then was pushed down into the berries, with more of the filling poured in, then another
larger crust sealed on top and baked til golden.  


When you cut down through those differing layers with that big old spoon, you got layers of crisp top and firm bottom crust, with a great cascade of the filling and melty middle crust, which had simmered into the most delightful soft bits like the fruitiest dumplings swirled in.


 And I never fail to think of a memorable dish that we stumbled upon on the way to Cincinnati several years ago.  On a back-road meander through a little town, we found a little country diner---a rustic, comfy one of the Kafe'-with-a-K sort, and the walls covered with the proprietor's paintings of birdhouses and barns, each with a little Post-It pennant announcing the price.

We partook of unimportant hamburgers, and asked what kind of pie. That's what you DO in a diner. Even though CAKE is our favorite, and there WAS a pretty white one sitting under the flat-topped dome on the counter, there's just something about a DINER that says "Pie." And sometimes you order some of every kind, just to be friendly.   Haven’t you always wanted to order “two slices of every kind of pie you’ve got” for the table, like in the MICHAEL movie?  

This time the choices were apple and pecan, neither of which appealed at the moment. We were about to pass on dessert, when the hostess (and owner) tilted her head slightly toward the kitchen-cutout and said, "Let me see if that Blackberry Cobbler has come out of the oven yet." (I
remember her face and demeanor as much like the lady who recommended the Dutch Apple Pie to Starman in the diner---his first taste of Earthfood, and I loved the waitress' pleasure at the total enjoyment on his cream-smeared face). 

Our server hostess returned with a shallow bowl the size of a dinnerplate, two long iced-tea spoons---the better to share it with, My Dear---and a quite visible trail of fragrant steam. She set it down with a little flourish, and stepped back a step as we admired.   In the bowl was a BIG river of beautiful purple, little rivulets of lavender and mauve spreading as it melted the two huge scoops of vanilla atop the sugar-crusted lattice. 


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It was too hot to eat at first, but we were determined to dig in before it melted the ice cream into liquid, so we did. Spoon after spoon, it was the essence and life and vitality and round dark sweetness of every blackberry that ever swelled on the bramble. It was the most delicious cobbler I've ever tasted, big ole whole blackberries with their shapes altered just enough to let free all those pent-up Summer juices. I hope we can find that little out-of-the-way place again.




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Blackberry Cobbler, in all its forms and fashions---whether crusted, latticed, Sankered, with biscuits or crescent rolls baked on, or with that CuppaCuppaCuppa thing stirred up in the bottom, to magically rise into a cloud of crisp doughy sweetness like floating teacakes---it conjures other times, other climes, in the way no other fruit pie can.


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

HUSH








"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."       Dylan Thomas

Friday, December 2, 2016

PAGEANTS PARTIES POSES


Linking today to Beverly’s PINK Saturday!!


We had such a lovely evening last night---it was so clear the car and street and holiday lights were just sparkling through the windshield.   It's about twenty miles over through the countryside to Sweetpea's school, and what a lovely drive just after dark.    Of course, I was riding with Santa, in his hat and bright red sweats-jacket (me in my red cloak and Mary Janes).  We both got a lot of wondering, smiling gazes from the little ones in attendance, and the program was just so cute.   Her grade performed last, and sang and jazz-handed their little gloved hearts out.   We all agreed that she was probably the only one there with all FOUR Grands to cheer her on.   That's SUCH a blessing to all of us. 


And on the way home, Chris and I got asked to pose with several customers as we waited for our takeout at the wing place.  

The one and only picture we took was of my two happy companions-in-fun, just brimming with the joy of the season.   And then there’s me---MAD EYE RUDY.   I’ve been cackling at that thought all morning.

A Christmas Cackle does you GOOD.


Monday, November 28, 2016

BURGER AND A MOVIE


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All this rich Thanksgiving fare gave us a crave for a plain old hamburger off the grill last night, and so that’s what we had, with a nostalgic delve into a hokey Harryhausen movie “The Magic Sword,” fondly remembered by Chris from his teens.  Nothing like childhood memories all at once to set you up for the holiday season.


There's a wonderful article on Slugburgers by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Mississippi's famous writer of articles-on-all-things-both-arcane-and-interesting. I read it several years ago, and it featured sounds, sights, smells, tastes, reactions and aftereffects of her first and only exposure to Corinth's most famous culinary creation. 

It was a lovely bit of writing, bringing to life every greasy, salty, mustard-clad bite. You could almost hear her arteries begin to harden.

My raisin' was in the Delta, and we had never heard of the "hill" folks' delicacy, though our local Milk Bar---guess we were too rural for a complete "Dairy" title--sold something similar. The little one-room building, whitewashed all around, had so many items and prices printed backward in white shoe polish on the INSIDE of the windows that you could barely see the workers within. You walked up to the little screen-flap window, picked your poison from the long list of cholesterol, paid your money, and promptly had the screen slammed down as the cashier turned to yell your order at the frycook standing two feet away.

The refrigerator door was opened to reveal several tall stacks of half-inch pink checkers, each separated by a small square of tornoff waxed paper. Heaven knows WHAT was massaged into that “ground beef” before the final patties were formed---last week’s unused buns, all crumbled into one last effort of use-it-up economy, or the lingering heels of every employee’s loaf of Wonder at home, brought in to stretch the “bought stuff” into more than it was. It coulda been oatmeal or even grits---we didn’t care.

One of these pink coins was grabbed by the paper and slapped upside down on the grill. The hot, dusty parking-lot air began to fill with the tongue-aching scent of sizzling meat as the cook threw two bun halves into the grease deposited by decades of burgers. And the not-quite-mixed bread-and-meat goo began to cook at different rates, different reactions of sizzle, so that each bite of the burger might offer a different taste and texture.

I remember the soft center section, the part that would’ve been rare had the patty not been so thin and the grill-cook not so watchful---that part was unctuously creamy with moist meat and soggy bread. And it was tempting to eat all way round the circle first, to get the mouthfuls of the crisp edges with their crunchy taste of meaty, grease-crisped croutons, or the almost country-fried-steak effect of all that bread mixed in and sizzled on the flat-top. 

  


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It never mattered to the cook if you got two tops or two bottoms, bun was bun; you didn't care either---you just wanted that sizzling and frying and mustard-smearing to be done, with a nice slice of onion and a coupla rings of salty dills slapped on. The meat, by this time, had been spatula-smashed with all the weight of Miss Ella's muscular right arm, flowering into a bun-sized, thin circle with crisp, lacy edges. Greasy spatula saluted top of bun, the lot went into a crisp crackle of waxy paper with the fancy pinked edges, and you received your prize, seizing it to your bosom like a holy relic.


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You backed away, averting your eyes from the waiting hordes, lest they lose control and wrest your long-awaited treasure from you. A clink of coins into the machine around the corner, the sissssssss of an ice-filled Dr, Pepper, and you retreated to the grimy picnic tables in the shade of the back lot, sinking onto that splintery bench like returning from battle. Rustle of paper, scent of onion-mustard-meat approaching your lips, then Heaven.



As I said, I've never tasted anything called a Slugburger, but I remember those filler-filled burgers of my youth with great pleasure, and with regret for the young of it, the bright-eyed lusty joy with which we wolfed down whatever was put in front of us, the uncaringness of the days before cholesterol and triglycerides were invented. That Milk Bar owner built house after house, renting them to many families, and she built them one burger at a time.

Slugburgers: No. The most memorable sandwiches of our lives: Oh, yes.