It’s summer, a time of picnics, BBQs, social gatherings which all amount to potlucks and you’ve got to bring something. When I was in college working summer jobs for my employer, they knew they could always count on me to sign-up for plates, napkins, cups, or plasticware. Occasionally, when someone beat me to it, I’d bring a 5lb. bag of chips from the El Lago factory for $5 where the chips would come out fresh and steam up the bag. As I grew older and my budget improved, I would venture out into soda and fancier chips whose factories were in exotic places like Purchace, NY.
These days, after much experimentation, I have a handful of dishes that are considered “mine” and that I’m usually asked to bring. However, there is this one I’ve offered on occation that upon suggestion, makes people twitch with uncertaintly – trapped between trying to be polite and overwhelming revulsion. I like to call it “pineapple salad”. There’s probably a better name for it, but I’ll have to pester my aunt to find out what it is. This is something that my mom and her sisters had when they were younger and that they invariably prepared for my cousin and me. Basically, you take a leaf of lettuce and lay it on the plate (I think it’s more a garnish, because I’ve personally never eaten it), center a pineapple ring on top of the lettuce, sprinkle the pineapple with grated cheese and then finish by adding a dollop of mayonnaise. Mmmmm! Just writing about it makes me want to rush out and get some pineapple, I bet you’re having the exact same reaction! Ok, ok, so it sounds “weird”, but honestly it really is fairly tasty.
Of course, talking about it makes me reminisce about the other dishes my family makes that are frankly better than any other place I’ve ever had them like something as simple as pimiento cheese. If you’ve never had homemade pimiento cheese, then you’ve never had pimiento cheese. My grandmother made the best cornbread stuffing; it’s one of those tastes that taste like Thanksgiving and fortunately both my aunt and mother could reproduce it, although my aunt recently said she made it for a group and no one except her would touch it – they preferred the more traditional stuffing. My grandmother also made these green beans from Kentucky Wonders that were heaven and if anyone knows where to get Kentucky Wonders in town, please let me know – my aunt is looking for them.
I suspect every family has a few of those recipes that no one can do better. For example, Anna’s mother makes the best pound cake. You could reproduce the recipe, but as Anna says, it’s the Puerto Rican spit that her mom adds to the pan that makes the difference. So, unless Anna’s mom starts aspirating into bottles and selling them, you’re just going to have to settle for your inferior pound cake.
Then, of course, you run into the occasional “secret family recipe” that someone will be kind enough to share. When you’re dealing with one of those recipes, there’s a certain etiquette involved. 1) Marvel at it when you’re the lucky recipient of the “secret recipe”. I don’t care if it’s butter on a plate sprinkled with sugar, if it’s got the title “secret recipe”, you marvel and thank the person for offering it to share. 2) Never proclaim, “I can do that, too!” and then whip out some Country Crock and your sugar dish. 3) In fact, if it really is good, try to pressure them into giving you that recipe – it’s both flattering and maybe you can eventually be marveled at, too. (Personally I’ve only been able to get one of those recipes and that’s now “my dish”. I’m holding out for the torte. In fact, this isn’t a hint to that person, but my BIG birthday is coming up and I swear I won’t share.)