Monday, March 30, 2015


The only place you could buy wine in Paxton when I was a child was at Edelstein's Dry Goods Store, a bit of an unmeant oxymoron, for I’m sure Mr. Edelstein didn’t have a liquor license---you couldn’t GET a liquor license back in the days when the store flourished and local matrons with their purses hung firm on their arms clinked the little gold bell as they entered, stepping up onto the brass-edged entry tiles---small gray octagons the size of a lady’s watch.

I loved to trace them whilst my mother shopped, and sometimes I’d remember to bring a little twig from home, to run round and round the tiny edges, with the almost inaudible click as the little stick made contact with the next tee-ninecy corner. I have no idea why the flat little things fascinated me so---and I couldn’t imagine how they must have been laid. I thought the workmen must have had really tiny hands.

The bottles of wine stood on a shelf behind the cash register, brightly shining their deepest purple through the gleam of glass---I don’t suppose The Law ever paid any attention to a nice Jewish man selling ceremonial wine to his fellow celebrants, for I never heard that there was any trouble over the Wet Goods sold right there amongst the dresses and shoes and bolts of fabric. To a child who’s never seen liquor in any form, they looked like black-purple Kool-Aid in big ole Karo jugs---the star, unfamiliar, but recognizable, and they were dismissed without a thought, other than for their pretty appearance.
Our neighbor Mrs. Davenport was given a recipe by some of her husband’s people over in Benoit; it came out of a tiny give-away cookbook, and the recipe had the exotic title, “Special Salisbury Steak.” She’d eaten some at her In-Laws' and it was scrumptious---it had wine in it. She debated, weighed her options of being seen buying booze against the elan of having the most popular dish at Church Supper, and since the only game in town was the Mogen David at Edelstein's---she just marched right in there and bought a bottle, as big as you please, right along with five yards of pink dotted Swiss and a Butterick pattern.

She took that heavy bottle home, fried up those little beef patties and onions and mushrooms, measured out a cup of the dark brew into the gravy, and was astonished at the strange color and scent of Welch’s that boiled up out of that pan. The whole thing, meat and all, looked a little bit funny, sort of a deep maroon shade, but one little spoontip told the tale---that stuff was DELICIOUS!

She served it to her family that night, getting out Gran Goldthwaite’s best china for such a fancy dish, ladling the Uncle Ben’s into the too-big tureen just because, and serving the meat and gravy on a PLATTER for the first time in her cooking history, just to show it off. She even served the Pineapple Ring Salads on lettuce leaves on salad plates. With a Cherry.

She carefully made the same recipe on First Saturday, doubling the recipe, and it took her two boilings to cook a whole tureen-full of rice. The big old chafing dish which had hitherto lived out its life sitting on the sideboard except for lending out for Bridal Showers and Wedding Receptions, was wrapped in tea towels and taken along, as well, to give proper honor to such a splendid dish.

Word went round the big Fellowship Hall that Mrs. D’s Sallis-Berry Steak was too good to miss, and she had to go back into the Church kitchen midway of the buffet line to refill the big top pan, for it was disappearing faster than both Mrs. Bingham’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplins and Miss Hattie Overton’s Tomato Aspic. Even those who had passed by the elaborate setup and the odd-colored stew took their plates back for a taste, emptying the big tureen of rice, and scraping the pan for the last drops of that strange, delicious gravy.

And everyone wanted the recipe; she modestly agreed, telling the ingredients and steps as thirty women fished in their purses for pen and paper. When she mentioned “Morgen David Wine,” everyone solemnly wrote the words on their paper, mouthing the unfamiliar name, relating it to the wonderfully robust sauce they’d just enjoyed. They all tried it, making a special trip into Edelstein's for seam binding or Coats & Clarks or a new pair of slippers, with a soft, unobtrusive request at the cash register for a bottle of wine.  For several weeks, there, neither of the grocery stores could KEEP the little cans of mushrooms on the shelves. And Mr. Edelstein had to double his order for the ceremonial wine, wondering why so many townsfolk had acquired a taste for it.

The furor lasted quite some time, but then, as under-the-hairdryer recipes go, this one was supplanted by a grand innovation---put a big chuck roast on doubled heavy duty Reynold’s, dump on two cans of Cream of Mushroom, sprinkle on an envelope of Lipton Onion, and sock it tight in the oven before Sunday School. It was perfect and ready, with the meat fall-apart tender and a gentle savory gravy all around, by the time you could hear the sermon, visit a bit in the parking lot, and get home and out of those good clothes, pour the tea, and sit down.

But since Miss Hattie Overton’s trips to her sister’s in Memphis always included a little jaunt over the bridge to West Memphis for a half-gallon jug of Smirnoff, her Tomato Aspic never did lose ITS appeal.

No comments:

Post a Comment