It must be football season, pass the fried chicken
Pardon the topic of personal shortcomings, please. Alas, this is the age of the public confessional delivered by means of digital mass communication. So here goes. My problem is football makes me hungry.
That is an issue because for a period of months annually, my employer expects me to follow the sport. No problem there. The trouble is, when I should be reaching for a boxscore to reference, I’d rather be reaching for a menu.
Better still, I’d rather be in a stadium parking lot reaching for my late mother’s sliced and marinated filet mignon served cold, horseradish and nose-tingling hot mustard served to the side. The whole spread (assorted breads, relishes,fruits, salads, cookies and cakes, lengths of sausage, blocks of cheese, glaciers of ice, oceans of powerful beverages) would come spilling out of one of those snazzy Ford LTD station wagons that were fashionable back long ago.
It’s all mother’s fault, this football and food deal with me. Besides us, there was nothing my mother loved more than a good party, particularly when she was in charge of the menu, which was often. She served and poured, in Red Smith’s words, with a heavy hand.
A proud descendent of many generations of artists of the stovetop, mother had the touch for cooking on both small scale and large. She was known for her mastery long before the concept of the “celebrity chef” was ever dreamed of.
Growing up, my memory is of crowds of guests at the house all the time. Whether it be springtime brunch with choices of cold cantaloupe soup, poached eggs, country ham, and delectable chicken salad, or a formal dinner – standing rib roast done in the French manner, perhaps - there always seemed to be a social occasion going on. The ladies were beautiful and bejeweled, the gentlemen handsome and firm of handshake.
Those parties, if during the autumn, were often accompanied by football, either at the stadium itself or televised in our living room and out on the terrace. Mother dished out the hot soup to the mob in brown French mugs. You’ve seen similar scenes: Lots of shouting from the revelers between bites and slurps and arguments about official rulings.
Of course, this was long before the advent of the “sports bar” and ESPN. Mother loved football, especially if Virginia or VMI were involved. More than that, she loved to cook and entertain.
All this was coming back to me of late as I’ve been sorting and organizing her cookbooks. They’ve been boxed for a while waiting for me to go to work on them. Now that may strike you as a routine and not very complicated chore. After all, how many cookbooks could one person own?
In my mother’s case, an entire library, shelves upon shelves of cookbooks dating back decades, a century or more. One of the multitude is April Herbert’s “The Tailgate Cookbook; A practical handbook of delightful meals for campers, travelers, and sports enthusiasts,“ publication date 1970.
Finding that one uncorked some memories of crimson leaves, red checkered table clothes in the open air, and scarlet radishes served sliced and dipped in butter and coarse salt and pepper.
The truth was, she didn’t need the books to cook. Most of the stuff that went on the table came straight out of her head.
She was like a symphony pianist playing Haydn by ear. The library was for reference. She wrote about food with great talent and flair for a number of publications both local and national. She was this paper’s restaurant reviewer for many years.
She came by her skills naturally. Her mother was another maestro of the pantry. She could serve up something as simple as a breakfast of fried apples and bacon that would prompt tears of joy from strong men. Her blackberry ice cream would stir a songwriter to seize his pen.
Part of the collection of books was nana’s, some of them from the 19th Century. Additionally, there are entire file drawers full of recipes laminated on heavy stock index cards with rubber cement, the kind of glue packaged in brown glass jars with the brush attached to the screw cap once seen on the desk of every copy editor.
The recipes were either clipped from a number of different newspapers and magazines or written in the elegant flowing hand of days long gone.
Many calories are contained therein.
Speaking of, getting all of this organized has been a real job. No wonder I’m famished.
-Ray Cox covers recreational, high school and college sports in the New River Valley. If you have information you’d like featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 381-1672.
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