Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I enjoyed seeing everybody's Derby Day, which  brought a great air of festivity to the entire week, and though we’ve never participated save having catered some few parties in the past (I trust it did not tarnish my G.R.I.T.S. Girl card that I had to look up the recipe for punchbowls full of juleps) I love reading and hearing about all the celebrations---especially the menus.

The air was scented with whole gardens of mint, and the great bright flocks of unbelievable chapeaux parading out into the Spring air were the opposite of fascinators, though they held a fascination of their own.   Tiny wisps of Seussian whimsy balanced on foreheads gave way to the bushel-hats of ladies walking like book-on-the-head modeling lessons, for MORE is certainly MORE on Derby day.

Even those architectural marvels are unable to eclipse the silver trays of little sandwiches, biscuits and ham, cheese straws,  beautiful desserts garnished with even more of the mint, and of course, Derby Pie.

The one thing I did not see in this year’s displays of lovely dainties is that familiar red ring of tomato aspic (known only as ASPIC, for recipes for any other kind are few in the South).  Mayhap its run has come and gone, all those recipes in Grandma’s cursive-on-cards faded and the measurements too vague, or perhaps the great advent of yard sales has swept away all the vintage Good  Housekeepings and McCalls into neat stacks for coffee-table legs, the pages tight and the pictures wan.   Aspic does always seem magaziney to me, for I think that’s where it was born.    I especially love the sidesaddle arrangement of plain old saltines hobnobbing with the elegant stuffed tomatoes and devilled eggs above.

 And except for the beauty of the thing, shining a ruby shine on its nest of lettuce leaves, I haven’t missed it.

The flavor and texture of aspic do not make it one of my favorite delicacies, though in past years, it graced every luncheon which preceded bridge afternoons, Home Demonstration Club and myriad showers.    And for decades, many, many kitchens featured a shining copper ring mold as part of the wall décor.  The stuff was cut into neat slices, quivering onto the lettuce with a little shudder before the anointment with a rich eggy homemade mayo. I HAVE an Aspic Server, for Heaven's Sake, as well as the little mayo bowl with its teeninecy glass ladle.  Can you imagine?

 But THEN there was the time that Mrs. Chandler wanted individual little molds for five tables---twenty chatty, smoking, lunch-devouring women, mostly with their own cooks (and old family recipes).  I could just feel their sharp watch and anticipation of one slip or drippage.

And I never had, until that day, had any misfortune with serving aspic (and wouldn’t have had THAT day, except Miz Porter had two too many rickeys and caught one of those headlight diamonds in her ring in the Battenburg luncheon cloth, yanking two plates out of place and nine pieces of silverware off onto the floor). 

Sousa himself and all his cymbals had not the resounding CLANGALANGS as when that sterling hit the hardwood, stopping all the ladies in mid-gossip.

But ON those plates were the ready-to-sit-down-to little pillows of aspic, with their topknots of homemade mayonnaise and the sidesaddle tender yellow celery brush lying languidly against the Limoge.   And we all witnessed a miracle of physics/gravity/ angels that day.  Both plates flipped, one almost falling into the ample lap of Mrs. C. herself, while the other turned a lovely half-gainer in the air, to land neatly on the cushion of aspic in an unoccupied chair, with nary a bruise nor breakage to the heirloom china.

Laughter and applause rang out before the spoons stopped clattering, and I had my plenty-minded mother to thank that there were extras in the kitchen.   I’d been afraid that some of them might not “turn out,” and had made an extra four.

Then the ladies tasted, and marveled again; they did that little tp-tp-tp with their lips, tried another bite, and could not quite put their fingers on the flavor.   I’d made the aspic a new way---with Worcestershire, Tabasco, celery salt, and tomato juice that had been simmered with lemon zest, onion and bell pepper.   That was strained, the Knox added, then cooled a bit before a sizeable glug of Smirnoff was stirred in. 

The ladies were avidly spooning up solid Bloody Marys.   


Chesapeake said...

From both of us in Chesapeake, a great big Laugh Out Loud for real!

Patsy said...


Tonja said...

This made me laugh out loud from start to finish!

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

Oh, good heavens! Dare I say that I've never even tasted Tomato Aspic? Or seen a LIVE horse race, let alone a derby.
Magazines are the only place and I swear, I think I've seen the very photo you show! :)
What a cute post.

Beverly said...

My grandmother and her sister, Aunt Susie, were surely advocates of Tomato Aspic. And, surely always served with aplomb.

Rachel, you are the "bestest of the best".♥♥♥

Kim S. said...

I am in agreement on aspic. It has always been something I WISH I liked. Lovely and cool, glimmery and tart. But when it came time to slide that red, tomato-y, slithery JELLO down the hatch, I balked as some do when faced with a raw oyster. Wonderful writing, as always, my friend!