Derby Day 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 above brows bowed before the bushel-hats of ladies walking like book-on-the-head modeling lessons, and 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 have not seen 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). And, except for the beauty of the thing, shining on its nest of lettuce leaves, I haven’t missed it.
The flavor and texture of aspic is not 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. But THEN there was the time that Mrs. Silverman 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 Miss Katherine Rhodes had two too many sherries, caught that big ole headlight diamond in her ring in the Battenburg luncheon cloth, yanking two plates out of place, and sending nine pieces of silverware crashing onto the hardwood).
Sousa himself and all his cymbals had not the reounding CLANG which stopped all those ladies in mid-word.
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 slid, one almost tipping into the ample lap of Mrs. S. herself, and 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
, celery salt, and tomato
juice that had been simmered with lemon zest, onion and bell pepper, and then strained. The Knox stirred in, the bowl cooled a bit, then a good measure of vodka stirred in before pouring into the molds. Worchestershire,
The ladies were avidly spooning up globs of solid Bloody Marys.