Penny Eggs

Anyone who bellies up to a Bible-Belt bar on a Sunday morning drinks in the certainty that their stool is just as comfortable and congenial as any pew.

Bartenders who work Sunday mornings know their customers well, and more often than not the hearkening faces at the rail know a thing or so about the bartenders, too. They’re always telling on one another, and if it’s a really friendly bar, they’ll do it aloud, especially when not that many people are in the bar and the music’s low. It’s a special sort of bonding ritual that you just won’t find along an aisle.

Jake and I enjoy basking in these secular exchanges. We manage to steer clear of most petty imbroglios; oh, we’ll put our two cents in on something especially outrageous (or at least I will), but most of the time we just talk to each other.

Jake grew up in upstate New York; I grew up in north Mississippi. He was probably pulling my leg when he told me that his parents once sent money to a charitable organization whose mission was to improve the lot of ignorant, parasite-infested Southerners, but I bristled anyway and reminded him that they did that once already (with taxes) and a less than charitable intent towards the majority of my ancestors.

He in turn reminded me that his folks came over on the Concorde and that his parents don’t pay taxes. At this point, I should have bolted, but bearing in mind Faulkner’s mandate of love despite faults, we both endured and have come to learn that we have much in common.

Take Vienna sausages, for instance, an iconic Southern nosh if there ever was one. Never in a million years would I have thought Jake knew of (much less ate them) as a child. But one Sunday morning at the bar he told me about penny eggs.

“My mother,” he said, “would take Vienna sausages, slice them crossways and put them in our scrambled eggs. She called them penny eggs.”

Suddenly I could hear a woman’s voice from a kitchen down a hall. “Do you want penny eggs for breakfast?” Or: “Hurry up or you’re going to miss your penny eggs.” What child would not be stirred? Little fists would begin to rub sleepy eyes, and soon the breakfast table would be surrounded by mouths eager for spoonfuls of eggs strewn with penny-like slices of mild sausage.

If I live for another 800 years, I don’t think I’ll ever feel anything as warm or hear anything as charming as that childhood memory coming to light in a dingy, musty bar on a rainy Sunday morning. Of course, he found nothing endearing about my Vienna memories, which involved fishing for crappie on Grenada Lake and untangling barbed wire from bush hogs that had run over an old fence.

“You were sweating,” he said. “They were like sodium suppositories.” After reminding him that we ate them, I tried to interject some romance into my remembrances.

“Jake,” I said. “Imagine that you’re in a leaky aluminum boat with a stuttering motor in the backwaters of a north Mississippi reservoir. It’s an early Saturday morning and sunny.

“You’re eight years old, fishing with a couple who have been married for forty years. You have your little baseball cap on, but your nose gets burned anyway. You catch one fish, a little one, to their twenty big ones. You get to drink all the Cokes you want, and pee off the side of the skiff. And for lunch, well before noon, you get saltines, a big piece of rat cheese, sardines if you want them, and a can of Vienna sausages.”

“Surrounded by venomous snakes no doubt,” he said. “And please tell me you didn’t eat the fish.” At this, I realized romanticizing barbed wire foul-ups on bush hogs was useless.

I keep Viennas on hand, but Jake, despite his admission of a childhood fondness for them, has consigned them to what the calls the redneck corner of the cupboard, where he puts my sardines, pink salmon, and saltines.

He lets me keep my red-rind cheddar in the fridge, bless his heart.

Little Red Ribs

Cut two pounds of meat and end bones from a rack of pork ribs into more or less bite-sized pieces.

Mix a half cup each hoisin and brown sugar, stir in a quarter cup each rice/cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and lite soy. Add a toe of grated ginger, and a teaspoon (or so) red food coloring. Mix very well with rib meat, and marinate for at least an hour.

Drain, spread meat onto a sturdy well-oiled pan, and roast on low heat until crisp. Boiled Irish potatoes are nice option, fresh onion an absolute must.

Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Salad in a Jar

This recipe comes from Teresa Bullard, who lives near my old hometown in Calhoun County, Mississippi. Both Teresa and her husband Jerry are fine cooks. Teresa also provided the great photo.

5 lbs tomatoes
5 lbs pickling cucumbers
2 lbs onions
2 heads of garlic
1 large bunch fresh dill (optional )
5 quarts water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fine sea salt
3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
10 Tablespoons sunflower oil (1 Tablespoon per jar)

Wash and dry your canning jars. I used 10 jars, 8 wide mouth quart jars and 2 half gallon wide mouth jars.

Wash the cucumbers and tomatoes. If your cucumbers are a little soft, you can crisp them up by letting them soak in really cold water for 15-30 minutes. Slice the cucumbers into approximately 1/2 inch circles. Slice the onions, about 1/4 inch slices and quarter the tomatoes. Peel the garlic. Place a few sprigs of fresh dill on the bottom of each jar, and then add 2-4 garlic cloves. Layer the onions, cucumbers and tomatoes in 2 layers in each jar.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring the water, salt and sugar to a boil, mixing until all the sugar and salt dissolve. Off the heat, pour in the vinegar. Ladle the hot marinade mixture over the vegetables in the jar, all the way to the top. Add about a tablespoon of sunflower oil to the top of each jar. I add a little bit less than a tablespoon to the quart jars and a little more than a tablespoon to the half-gallon jars.

Place the jar lids in boiling water and let the lids stay in the boiling water for 10-15 minutes also, off the heat. Place a clean towel or dishcloth on the bottom of a large pot, and fill it with water. Bring the water to a boil, Place the filled jars in the boiling water, on top of the towel, cover them loosely with the lids and cook, at a simmer, for 10-15 minutes. Take the jars out of the water and close the lids tightly. Repeat with all the jars.

The salad is ready to eat in 1-2 days. Store opened jars in the refrigerator, the rest are shelf stable at room temperature.