The Southern Humorists Present ...

September 2004 is Gooder'n Grits Month!

Now what, pray tell, is gooder'n grits? Well, there's lots of stuff, so grab a RC Co-coler, sit back, and see what the Southern Humorists think is real good!

Discussion on Grits | Sheila's Chocolate Chip Cookies | Grits: It Just Ain't For Breakfast | Cletus on Grits | Pamela's Fried Jellybeans | The Dangers of Chinese Food | Gertie's Got Grilled Cheese! | The Lord and Barbecue | Food For Thought | Tomatoes: They're Everywhere and Unstoppable | Pizza Rage | Our Lifeblood Comes in Tiny Red Packets | Soap is Starting to Look Tasty | The Closet Eaters | Diet Trying | As God Is My Witness: I Will Never Be Hungry Again | Pie Are Too Square

Southern Humorists Discuss Grits

Jason Offutt admitted, "Uh, should I admit this? I've never had grits in my life..."

Danny Gallagher responded, "You ain't missing anything. You ever eaten clumps of wet beach sand with butter on top of it? It tastes exactly like that."

Pam Dragon said, "I had grits for the very first time at Casa Baker. They were tasty and since them I have made them at home a few times - obviously not enough times because tiny web-slinging insects infested the bag. Be that as it may, grits are something I can take or leave and I can certainly think of many things that are better: chocolate, steak, roast pork, omelets, stickies, dirty martinis, brownies, fresh peaches, Fuji apples, bing cherries, strawberries, ripe brie, aged stilton, single malt scotch, real whipped cream, grilled fresh tuna, steamed clams, stone crabs, ripe tomatoes, sweet corn...well, you get the idea."

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Sheila's Chocolate Chip Cookies
By: Sheila Moss

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This oatmeal version makes chocolate chip cookies that are large and chewy; nothing like the ones in packages at the store. Only a small amount of expertise is needed and the results are well worth the effort.

  1. Find the recipe. Oatmeal companies have conveniently printed it right on their box, so you won't have to dig through all the yellow, disintegrating recipes that have accumulated through the years. Plan to make a double batch as they go quickly.
  2. Blend 3/4 cup shortening with 1-cup brown sugar and ½ cup of sugar. Use a mixer to make this process easier. Did you make sure the brown sugar was soft so that the mixer would not sling it all over the wall? Stop and clean the wall. If that stuff gets hard, it is like concrete, and you will really have a mess.
  3. Now add ¼ cup of water. You did use margarine, didn't you, instead of the stuff that comes in a can? If not, the cookies are going to taste greasy and stick to the roof of your mouth. If you did not use margarine, return to Step One. While you are at the store, buy real margarine - but not the soft kind; it has water in it. Thank goodness I warned you! That's what you were going to get, isn't it?
  4. Okay, did you add the egg? Pick out any eggshell. I know it is a source of calcium, but we are talking cookies here, not health food. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Do not nip any on the side, regardless of the temptation. It has high alcohol content, and we don't want to make any more stupid mistakes.
  5. Add 1 cup of sifted flour and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. You can use the mixer again, but remember what happened last time. Wait! Blend it in before you turn on the mixer. Oh, no! WOW, look at that dust cloud! I never knew flour could create a mushroom cloud.
  6. After the flour is blended, you are ready for the oatmeal. Measure 3 cups. If there is a little bit left over, just throw that in too. Forget the spoon and dig in with your hands and squish. 
  7. When blended, throw in a bag of chocolate chips. Use a lot, regardless of what the recipe says about adding one cup.
  8. Oven should be heated to 350 degrees. Don't tell me - let me guess. You forgot to turn on the oven, didn't you? Argh! What ever made you try to bake cookies? Do you even have a cookie sheet? That figures! Well, forget going to the store at this point. Go borrow a couple from the neighbors. They won't mind since they figure you'll bring some cookies when you return them.
  9. Grease the cookie sheets. I know the recipe says not to. Just listen to me; I KNOW! Drop batter in small spoonfuls on the cookie sheet and place in oven for 12-15 minutes. While cookies bake, clean kitchen. Set timer on oven.
  10. What's that smell? I told you to set the timer! Okay, okay, I hope you doubled the recipe just in case. Just throw those burned ones out for the birds. "Here birdie, birdie, birdie."
  11. Let's try again. Turn the oven down and watch it carefully. Remember, I said SMALL spoonfuls! Good. We do not want them turn into one large cookie, do we? Do not leave the room; do not clean the kitchen; do not go to the bathroom. When timer goes off, remove the first batch. Don't they smell good? Wait! Let them cool a bit before you try to remove them. Fix the second batch on the other cookie sheet and place in oven while you wait.
  12. Okay, with a metal spatula, carefully remove baked cookies. Careful! Well, just eat your mistakes. Broken cookies have no calories. Be sure to watch that second batch in the oven. Whadda ya mean, "Uh, Oh!?"
  13. FIRE! FIRE! Dial 911!
  14. After the fire department leaves and the smoke clears, clean oven, mop kitchen floor, clean walls, wash curtains. Go to store and buy a couple packages of chocolate chips cookies. You'd better just leave the cookie baking to the elves from now on. Throw a bit of flour in your hair; at least you'll look like a cook.

Copyright 2004 Sheila Moss

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Grits: It Just Ain't For Breakfast
By: Mike Bay

          Grits.  Not an easy subject for a Colorado-based Yankee to broach, particularly with southern readers.  To hear it told, grits are symbolic of the South, like pecan pie, home, guns, women, NASCAR and college football, and are NOT to be taken lightly or in jest.  It's a sin, comparable to not opening a door for a lady, pooting in church, or saying "huh? who?" when references arise to Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

          Although, if you're an unmannered, ill-educated culinary barbaric Yankee like me, then it's probably expected in part.

          I'll get to why I'd dare go here in a minute, but first:  for those who have no dietary experience with this southern staple and plaster alternative, allow me to briefly sum up what grits are:  it starts life as corn.  White corn.  If it isn't a hybrid corn, it gets that color realizing what it's being prepped for.  Then it is either ground up or soaked in lye waterThey used to make soap out of lye.  It'll clean anything.  Not that they leave the lye in the grits, in the case of soaking (used on hominy grits):  after a couple days, the hominy is rinsed until the lye is gone.  At least, that's what they say.

          While I didn't delve into the recipe end of grits, I'm sure there's no end to them, like uses for zucchini:  plain grits, cream of grits, grits soup, grits tortillas, fried grits, baked grits, grilled grits (don't ask me how), grits as a side dish, grits as a main dish, biscuits and grits, cheesed grits, grits pie, grits bread, etc.  Back in my formative days, I first heard Granny (The Beverly Hillbillies) make reference to "possum grits"; I thought she meant the last facial expression on a possum a half-second before a pickup truck turned one into a roadside buffet for crows.

          My father -- born and raised around the Ozarks of southern Missouri -- had a thing for hominy grits.  His thing was to eat 'em; us kids' thing was to hold our noses and not watch.  Thus, I've only had a couple adult experiences wth grits, both during business trips in the South during the latter 1980s.  Out of respect and sensitivity for my southern brethren -- 'cuz I didn't want to be the cause of a resumption of the Civil War -- I avoided acknowledging those experiences, just as I steadfastly denied those youthful episodes of pooting in church (it was really my little brother).

          Then came a column by a well-known southern columnist and accomplished southern maven, Sheila "Tennessee Firefly" Moss, about grits that dared to take them by the bran and to admit their (at least to her) inedibility.

          I saw that as an excuse to ante up with my own anecdote.  Besides, I'm sure that my waitress and only witness has long since forgotten me.

          My near life-altering experience with grits came one morning unexpectedly, at the restaurant of a Ramada Inn overlooking I-75 just west of Sweetwater, TN.  I had ordered my customary artery-hardening breakfast without careful examination of the fine print in the menu.  My stunning waitress brought, along with eggs, bacon grease and toast, a bowl of what looked like thick, gritty mashed potatoes.  Being somewhat testosteronally distracted -- she was a textbook southern babe -- I half-heartedly asked her about the 'extra'.  She -- in a seductively sweet southern accent that melted my attention span -- told me it was grits and was included with the order.

          Now, there are many foods I hated in my youth that I came to appreciate later, like broccoli and asparagus drown in melted cheddar cheese.  So -- and because my waitress was a babe with great eyes and other parts that I was instantly in lust with -- I decided to give it a try.  With no thought other than to get her phone number and her father's permission to marry her, I took an ample spoonful of grits and shoveled them home.

          I'm not sure how mind-numbing paralysis and a full 90 degree eye-crossing are medically explained, but that's where I found myself the instant the grits hit my tongue.  Every alarm bell in my sensory system went 'general quarters', yet I was stuck:  I feared to swallow, yet I couldn't spit it out (the retch-force of the pending spit might have propelled a cannonball of grits the couple hundred yards into I-75, causing a multi-car accident).  Turning blue, I never thought I'd see single images again.  I was convinced I was going to die like this -- with a mouthful of grits -- and my tombstone would read Grits And Couldn't Bear It.  I knew I had to do something,
otherwise the ever-heavier lump on my tongue would explode my cheeks and eat my brains like some Billy Bob Thorton movie.

          Amidst a catastrophic biological meltdown, my sense of hearing recouped just enough to hear her coming to check on me.  Realizing that something had to give to save a beyond-hope chance at a potential marriage and future family, I had no choice:  becoming a very temporary in-crisis Catholic, I quickly crossed myself...and swallowed.

          There was no word to describe it in the dictionary.  I checked later.

          When she arrived, my eyes were almost completely normal, barely concealing the WWF-style gopher Texas cage match taking place in my stomach:

          "How were the grits, hon?"  she purred.

          "Uh..." was about all that came out, since I didn't want to follow up with something solid.

          "Y'all just ask if ya want more, sugah".  As she walked away, she giggled.

       She knowd.  Another dang fool Yankee bit the grits.

          At any rate, I've come to know some great folks from the South.  I know them to have a great heritage and traditions.  I know them to be proud, industrious, chivalrous and upstanding.  And if they eat grits, I know them to be incredibly tough and durable.

          As for me...I suspect I now know where Stephen King got his idea for the horror epic, Children of the Grits.  'Course, he's a Yankee, too.  'Nuff said.
          

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Cletus on Grits
By: SouthernAngel

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Pamela's Fried Jellybeans

By: Chef Pamela & the SH Test Kitchen © 2004 All Rights Reserved

Dip chilled jelly beans in beaten egg then roll in crushed cornflakes until well coated. Dip again and coat again. Then return to fridge for 30 minutes to set up.

Deep fry in peanut oil or good lard until the coating is nicely browned.

Serve with a sprinkle of powered sugar and the customary warning that the contents are very HOT!

The idea is to get eat them while still warm enough to be soft and gooey, sort of the consistency of a nice fresh gummy bear with a crunchy coating, but not hot enough to inflict 3rd-degree tongue burns.


PS: The secret to deep frying jelly beans is to use a basket or you will lose them in the deep fryer.... adds Southern Humorist Cowboy Mark.

And there you have it folks, proof that Southerners will indeed fry anything.  We've not yet finished testing this in our SH Test Kitchen since we've been busy pickling pig's feet this week. But if you try it anyhow, be sure to write and let us know how good it is!

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The Dangers of Chinese Food

By: Ben Baker © 2004 All Rights Reserved

I like Chinese food. I really like the places with buffets. But there are some dangers in Chinese food dining for the unwary.

First. Don't dine in large groups with the intent of sharing. Every person in the group, but one, is going to be normal and order regular food like pepper steak, wonton soup, shrimp fried rice and so forth.

But, the one person who claims that he doesn't like Chinese food is going to be the oddball. Instead of getting something sane, like double egg rolls, this person orders - fried whooping crane beaks.

Second. Don't send someone else to the buffet place to pick up your meal. Again, instead of filling the take out tray with normal food like wings, ribs, egg rolls and the Lo Mein noodles, this person is going to start thinking, "Hmmm. I just don't know what Ben (using my name because it's easier) would like to eat. I know he eats all kinds of weird things like rattlesnake and coon. Hey! There's something new. I'll just get him that."

And then he makes the rest of the patrons at the buffet line take a step back. No crowding this person!

"That" is the Chef's special of the Day. The Chef is probably a culinary whiz at oriental cooking, but he's got a thing to learn about Southerners and Southern food.

Instead of getting a take-out with things I like, I get a double-family meal portion of octopus eyes in a light yak butter sauce. (I have a real problem with eating something that's looking back at me.)

Third. Say for some reason the planets were in alignment, the stars uncrossed and Bill Clinton actually never was the president and the person actually put stuff on the tray you eat. Fine and dandy, right?

Nope. Not by a long shot.

The purpose of a buffet is to eat until you have to be carried out in a wheelbarrow. Take-out buffets should be carried out in a wheelbarrow.

Now this person who's getting your order for you, suddenly has an attack of conscience. Instead of heaping the tray, the person gets one egg roll, a half spoon of rice, one Lo Mein noodle and a chicken wing tip. Can't even get the good part of the wing, has to get the tip.

You are now on a diet whether you wanted to be on one or not.

Fifth and finally. This is what scares me the most. The fortune cookie.

There's nothing actually scary about the cookie. Most of 'em are rather good in fact. Also, the fortunes other people get are often quite amusing. It's the fortune I keep pulling out.

Without fail, every time I crack open a cookie and read it, it states: "Help! I'm trapped in a Chinese fortune cookie factory."

-30-

Get your regular serving of Ben Baker's drivel doseodrivel-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and if that ain't enuf, get bonuses, expanded and classic doses (as well as getting able to post your own) at benbakerfans-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

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Gertie's Got Grilled Cheese
By: Gertrude Butterbean © 2004

Ah, the versatile and lovable grilled cheese! Did y'all know that there are endless ways to use this culinary delight?

Before I go any further, let me tell you how to make a plain grilled cheese.

  1. Get a skillet, bread, cheese, and butter - choose whatever brand, flavor, or kind that flips yer trigger. (Feeling frisky? Use pepper-jack cheese and rye. Democrat? Use smoky cheddar and sour dough bread. Republican? Use Velveeta and white bread. Tree hugger? Use soy cheese and whole-wheat bran fiber roughage bread.)
  2. While your skillet is heating up, get two pieces of bread and butter one side of them. Don't butter the cheese, it don't work that way.
  3. Buttered side out, put two slices of cheese in the middle of yer bread, and plop it in the skillet. Don't burn your fingers.
  4. Fry it on both sides until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. Don't you dare press down! Nobody likes a flat grilled cheese - except for them daggum Yankees that dip their grilled cheese in ketchup.

Now that you can make a decent grilled cheese, let me tell ya what you can use it for. First off, the most obvious use for it is food. You can serve it as a:

  • Side dish. For breakfast, serve it with a generous portion of scrambled eggs, bacon, and grits. For lunch, cut it in half and serve it with some tomato soup, canned ravioli, or Momma's leftover stew. For supper: it's great to sop up pot likker from the peas and collards.
  • Main dish. Serve one or two of them with a big ol' pickle spear and some barbecue pork rinds.
  • Horse d'ovary. Cut it into purty little squares and stick in them fancy toothpicks, or you could cut it up, batter it, and deep fry it again for a double-fried grilled cheese - just the thang if you need a cholesterol boost. You could also cut it up, stir in some fried okra, peanuts, and pretzels and make Good Ol' Boy Trail Mix.
  • Topping. Chop it up fine and sprinkle over any casserole from sweet potater to squirrel.
  • Dessert. My sister Luler-Belle likes to mix it up with applesauce and possum, then serve it with ice cream. She calls it, 'Possum Alley Mode.'

Other uses for grilled cheese are:

  • Catfish bait.
  • Hostess gift or stocking stuffers.
  • Air freshener.
  • Decoy for uninvited relatives that show up at suppertime, or to hush up a whiny kid.
  • When limburger cheese is used, it can be used as a neighbor repellent during the holidays
  • If mozzarella cheese is used and it's over-cooked, you could pull it apart and use it as a slingshot.
  • Leftover grilled cheese can be chopped up and used to fertilize the rose garden.
  • If stacked, smashed, and bound, they could be used prop up the deer stand during huntin' season.
  • If left in the sun too long, poke holes in a corner, string 'em up with baling twine, and make fanciful wind chimes.
  • Uncle Booger likes to use ground up grilled cheese for his hair pomade.
  • Drop some leftover sandwiches at the edge of the woods and then do some target practice on the varmints it attracts - just make sure you use a BB gun in case Uncle Booger shows up.
  • With some shellac and gold spray paint, you could have some real purty artwork.

I hope I showed y'all how useful a grilled cheese is. Ya know, with the holidays coming up, these idears will come in real handy on how to feed and gift all them relatives that drop in to sit a spell.

Happy Grilled Cheese Grillin', Y'all!

Click here to subscribe to Gertie's reminder!

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The Lord and Barbecue

By: Angela Gillaspie © 2004

Here in the South we like things that are steady, reliable, and good. Our motto should be, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The proof of this is in two things that we dearly love: the Lord and barbecue. You can't go a mile down the road without passing a church or a barbecue stand down here.

I was taught to love the Lord and barbecue at a young age at a small church in North Georgia. After an emotionally charged revival, you could always count on there being barbecue to refresh your saved soul.

The prevalence of churches down here might be attributed to our spiritual and social needs. Our churches not only provide a place of worship -- they provide an extended family. When my Grandpa died, our church helped by filling our house with pies, casseroles, barbecue, and visitors bearing hugs. My church had activities that centered mostly on Southern cooking.

Pigs are a low-maintenance and convenient food source in the South, and fat back, bacon, and lard are used in most of our dishes. Daddy told me that his family used every part of the pig except the hair and eyeballs. He described how an inflated pig's bladder made a tough ball to play with. Back then when a pig was killed, everyone gathered together, prayed, and shared the meal. Perhaps having barbecues came from this tradition. Barbecues are a popular and inexpensive way to lobby for votes, and since barbecue is not a class-specific food, these gatherings are an excellent way for different classes to eat, drink, and get an ear-full from the preacher or politician.

What does barbecue have to do with the Lord? To try and figure this out, I got out my Bible. Leviticus chapter one, verse nine paraphrased says, "It is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord." In presenting a meal offering the priest first prepared it by putting oil and spices on it. Next, he took the "handful" for the burnt sacrifice, salted it (all meat offerings must be salted), and placed it on the fire. The rest of the offering belonged to the priests (except for the high priest's meal offering and the consecration of the priests). Although pork was not sacrificed in Biblical times, we Southerners have to make due with what we have on hand.

Daddy takes meal offerings literally because his barbecue is partially consumed before the meat reaches the supper table. He doesn't know that he only has to burn a handful, not all of it. A friend told me, "My husband came home one day and said 'Man, that Pentecostal church is really making a sweet-smelling aroma to the Lord. I don't know how they do it.' And I said, 'So, what, were they having a tent revival or something that you could hear their worship outside?' And he says, 'Nope, a really great-smelling barbecue.'"

Was Jesus a vegetarian? The Gospels tell us that Jesus helped his disciples catch fish and He ate fish with them. Also, the Bible tells us that Jesus celebrated Passover and the Passover meal contained lamb. I wonder if the lamb was roasted in a pit with a peppery tomato-based sauce?

Barbecue and church types are as diverse as colors of the rainbow. In the Carolinas, the meat is either sliced or chopped and the sauce is peppery vinegar or vinegar and tomatoes. In Georgia, the pork is still sliced or chopped, but the sauce is primarily a yellow mustard-based mixture. Further west, barbecue is served "pulled" (shredded by hand into tender threads of meat). The pulled pig region (centered on Memphis, Tennessee) has a sweet tomato sauce flavored with pepper and sorghum molasses. In Alabama and Arkansas, most of the sauces are red but a bit spicier than Tennessee's.

As far as churches go, you'll find Conservative and Liberal Southern Baptists, Conservative (no music) and Liberal Primitive Baptists, and Freewill Baptists. There are Conservative and Liberal Presbyterians, Modernist Methodists, Charismatic Episcopalians, Conservative Episcopalians, Churches of Christ, and Pentecostal Holy Rollers (Church of God, Assembly of God, and Charismatic). Also in the mix are Charismatic Catholics, Ritualistic Roman Catholics, and Conservative and Liberal Lutherans. And this list barely scratches the surface of all the worship centers down here; in our churches, you will find radical rompin', devil stompin', Bible talkin', faith walkin', ever lovin', overcomin', curtain climbin' Christians!

We take our religion and barbecue serious. Whether you just finished speaking in tongues, laying your hands, or singing Amazing Grace, chances are great that pulled, chopped, or sliced pork will be available to fill your belly after the Holy Spirit has filled your heart.

Barbecue is definitely Southern Manna.

Visit Angela at SouthernAngel.com and click here to subscribe to Angela's Stories. It's FREE!

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Food For Thought

By: Mark Berryman © 2004

After giving away my foolproof diet last week for practically nothing, I got hungry. That's what I love about my diet. There's no real problem with thinking about food. I immediately went into the kitchen and made a huge helping of fried cheese doodles and a chocolate milkshake.

Some diet plans require you to amputate a limb if it so much as touches a triple bacon quadruple cheese burger. Shame on them.

While I do love food, I often wonder about food pioneers. I'm not talking about Martha Stewart covering herself with flower and cocoa in front of the camera, then reaching into a fake oven to pull out a cake someone else made hours ago....for her. Maybe Martha will be a pioneer in revolutionizing prison food.

I'm talking about those brave souls who first tried what are now delicacies. Take oysters for example. Whether you like them or not, you must wonder about the first person to find one, open the shell, look at that slimy gray blobbery mass and think to himself, "Hmmm, that looks tasty." We could discuss mountain oysters, but I won't.

The reuben sandwich is another oddity. It took me years to actually taste one. Who in their right mind would put meat with way too much pepper coating, sour cabbage, pickley salad dressing and cheese on a couple of pieces of strong tasting bread and think it would be good?

That sandwich had to be invented by a bachelor who made it from the only items that remained in his fridge other than two slices of green bologna. The baloney was his first choice, but it rose on its green penicillin legs and ran for cover when he reached for it.

What about the egg. Can you just imaging the caveman bringing home a huge pterodactyl egg and proclaiming supper is here? Mrs. Cavey asks, "Where did you get that thing, dear?"

"I saw it fall out of a dinobirds rump, and thought we could stir it up for supper." At this point she wonders why she ever uttered the phrase "Ooga Ooga" to start with. If you don't understand cavemanese, you missed my dating column. Call me and I will explain it to you.

Of course, we shouldn't forget cow's tongue. I'm fairly sure that someone was breaking a cow down and the farm hand asked, "Whaddaya want me to do with the head?"

The farmer started, "Throw it a...wait a minute, there may be something worth eating on that thing. Cut that tongue out and throw it on the good pile."

As far as desserts go, I think fruitcake fits the category. There has to be something wrong with a dessert that has to get you liquored up so you will not only eat it, but like it. If you soaked tree bark in rum long enough, some people will stand in line to get it.

Yes, we owe a debt of gratitude to those valiant souls who first ventured beyond the normal food standards to boldly go where no taste bud has gone before. Without them, calamari would still be something used to catch your supper with.

Happy Trails!

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Tomatoes: They're Everywhere and Unstoppable

By: Jason Offutt © 2004

There are three tomatoes on my kitchen counter.

Bright, red, round - suspicious.

Yesterday there were only two.

The tomato takeover started slowly. At first I saw a couple of them on Mom's kitchen windowsill. Then I'd drive by bushels of them sitting in the backs of innocent looking pickup trucks, signs posted advertising their ripe, red juiciness. And more and more often I'd see a few tomatoes in a bowl on the office break room table next to a computer print-out that reads "take one - or six."

But I realized something strange, perhaps sinister was going on when I saw a basket of tomatoes in the church vestibule.

The basket sat on a table, between the guest book and the food pantry donation box that's usually full of cans of asparagus and pumpkin pie filling.

It's as if someone brought the tomatoes into the church and left the basket there - on purpose.

I was tempted to pick one up until I realized I'd be playing right into Their hands.

Whoever "They" are ...

Basically, I guess I don't trust people who plant gardens.

Oh, sure, having a garden sounds like a good idea. Be one with the earth. Nurture the seeds you planted in the spring until they're beautiful green stalks or vines full of healthy produce. Then, when it's time to harvest the fruit and vegetables you worked so hard to water and weed for months, you realize you've got enough tomatoes and cucumbers to support the economy of Spain.

So, what do you do with all those tomatoes?

First, you eat as many as your family can stand. Sliced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, tomatoes stuffed with tuna and mayonnaise, tomatoes on salads, tomatoes on pizzas, tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato casserole topped with healthy sliced tomatoes ... until you'd just kill for something made with zucchini.

Then you give the tomatoes away by glutting the only markets you know - family, friends, co-workers, blind dates, casual acquaintances you don't mind ever seeing again, random strangers, the aliens who abduct you and, finally, fellow parishioners.

That's when I realized something grave was going on.

"Oh, someone wants us to take some tomatoes," my wife said that day after church.

But we kept walking, out the door, down the steps and back home where tomatoes were strangely multiplying on our kitchen counter.

My mother had given me tomatoes. A co-worker had given me tomatoes. A person I barely knew asked ...

Then I knew. Like some 1950s B-grade sci-fi movie come to life, the tomatoes were taking over.

The little fruits look harmless. That's their plan. Heck, we grow them ourselves, thinking all along it's our idea to bring them into this world. The tomatoes seduce us with their succulent nature and their richness in vitamins A and C.

Then the tomatoes recruit their witless gardener slaves to distribute them to the unsuspecting masses.

But now I've found the plot includes more than tomatoes.

Someone brought a bunch of banana peppers to work last week. Zesty banana peppers.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Maybe this flood of unwanted fresh, healthy food is innocent. Maybe these pesky people simply underestimated their garden's yield. Maybe they're doing me a favor by saving me a trip or two to the grocery store.

Or maybe, just maybe the tomatoes really are taking over.

All hail our tomato overlords.

-30-
Jason Offutt is an award-winning humor columnist. You can subscribe to Jason's (more or less) monthly newsletter and buy Jason's e-book "Didn't life Used to be Easy?" on the World Wide Web at: www.jasonoffutt.com

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Pizza Rage

By: Phillip Jones © 2004

Friday nights are "PIZZA NIGHT" for me! Pizza! The most perfect food in the known universe, plus a few other universes not so well known as ours. The flour in pizza crust makes me fat so I can't eat it 18 times a day, as I would prefer.

As you can imagine, Friday nights take on a special significance for me. The work week is over, I don't have to go to bed early (which means I can fall asleep in front of the TV... like every other night except that I don't have to get up and go to bed at any special time), I don't have to get up early Saturday, and... I eat PIZZA!

I don't just get any pizza on Fridays; I get Una Pizza, which has the best thin crust pizza. Period. Una makes its dough in the store, and they put the sausage on the pizza fresh and uncooked, and then let the ovens cook it. They don't sprinkle cheese on their pizzas; they layer it on in slabs. Slabs, for heaven's sake! That movie Signs would have been more realistic if the aliens had to come to Earth and were using their crop circles to try to order Una Pizza. The aliens and Mel Gibson could have both had their faith renewed over a 20-inch sausage pizza from Una.

This past Friday night, SIL, my sister-in-law, took our four older kids to stay over at her house (I think she planned to feed them to her cats, but since it was Friday, and I was getting pizza, I didn't care what she planned). My Wife threw a monkey wrench into the plans when she suggested that we get Chinese for a change. Now, I like Chinese. I like soft noodles. But, Chinese gives me a headache, and a half-an-hour after eating soft noodles, I feel like I swallowed a large mouth bass instead. A little Chinese is okay for me, so I thought I'd order a little pizza and a have a little soft noodles.

It was getting late in the evening when we figured this all out. Since it was getting late, I thought I'd better not go to central Evansville to get Una. You see, if My Wife has to wait very long for dinner, she turns into one of those aliens from Signs and no amount of Una Pizza will fix the situation. I decide I can live without Una Pizza for one week; I'm still getting pizza, right? If I'm not getting thin crust pizza from Una, the only other kind of pizza I want is deep dish. So, I'm cool... until I decide that I get some Little Caesar's Pizza.

I don't know Little Caesar's phone number by heart, like I do Una's. I get out the phone book. There's no listing for a Little Caesar's in our town. Oookaayy! I know for a fact that there's a Little Caesar's on the East side of Evansville, which I think I can still drive to and not be too late. There's no listing for a Little Caesar's in Evansville. Period. Oookaayy! As a side note, I've been listening to the audio book of Fast Food Nation while I commute back and forth to work. According to the author of this book, I should be able to find at least four franchise operations of Little Caesar's Pizza just in my basement. So why am I having a this much trouble find a freaking phone number for this pizza place?

I gave up on the phone book and called information. There's no answer. You get that? No one from Ameritech's Information switch board is picking up! I dialed again in case I misdialed. After a minute of waiting, I hit the disconnect button, just as I hear someone say "What city?" I called back. No answer. I called three more times before I gave up. What were these people doing? No doubt they were all ordering pizza from Una.

I try to get smart by grabbing my cell phone. I figure if I dial information on my cell, someone is bound to answer. After twenty rings, I'm banging my head on the wall when an operator answers. I've gone through all this only to find out that information doesn't have a listing for a Little Caesar's anywhere on the face of the planet.

I decided that some deep dish pizza from Noble Romans will fit the bill. I call the only Noble Romans in our town. The number has been disconnected. Now, I know for a fact that this place just re-opened under new management a few weeks ago. So, it CAN'T be closed again already. I call one of the Noble Romans outlets in Evansville, and they tell me that ours is indeed closed. My Wife suggests I try the co-branded Noble Romans that is located with that "We-Sell-Crap" convenience store on the far East side of Evansville. It's worth a shot, so I call.

Allow me to digress for a moment and explain that I don't like using the telephone. It goes back to my preteen years when I called girls that I had a crush on. Maybe you remember how it was when you were 12 years old and trying to work up the courage to call someone that you've got a crush on. "Should I call her? Oh man, I don't know. Should I call her? Oh man, I don't know. Should I call her? Oh man, I don't know. Should I call her? Oh man, I don't know." ...four hours later... "Should I call her? Oh man, I don't know." I finally work up the courage it would take to tell my football coach to his face that he is a jerk, and I call some girl. She laughs at me. This wouldn't be a problem if it had only happened to me once. Sometimes they laughed at me on the phone, and sometimes they waited and organized a bunch of their friends to laugh at me the next day at school. So, I hate talking on the phone.

Let's get back to this boring story... I call this Noble Romans. A woman answers. I tell her that I want to order a pizza. She laughs at me! Then she puts me on hold. By this time, steam is pouring out of my ears and you can see veins throbbing in my forehead. After what seems like 20 minutes, this woman comes back on the line and asks me all over again what the hell I want. As coldly as I can, I tell her that I want a deep dish Sicilian pizza with sausage and pepperoni. It's only a sense of what is gentleman-like behavior that keeps me from adding, "You scurvy woman!" to the end of my order. She giggles and tells me to hold on again. After another 20 minute wait, she comes back on to patiently explain, to this moron of a guy on the phone with her, that their restaurant doesn't serve deep dish pizza, or even most of the other kinds of pizza that other Noble Romans sell. I hung up before I ended up saying something unspeakable to her.

There are only two possible reasons why this Noble Romans employee had to make me wait while she asked someone about my order (which I assume is what she did the second time she put me on hold): 1) She had just started working there 5 minutes before I called, or 2) she was an ignorant cretin. Theory number two is my favorite.

By this time, I'm freaking out. It's late and My Wife is starting to look vaguely alien in form. I decide that the gentleman-like thing to do for her is go get her some Chinese take-out before it gets any later. I ask her to call the local Papa Johns while I'm gone to found out if they serve deep dish pizza. I fully expect to find out that this Papa Johns had exploded five minutes before she called. They hadn't, but they didn't serve deep dish either, which means they might just as well have exploded for all I cared.

In the midst of my pizza rage, I suddenly realized that my attempts to be unfaithful to Una Pizza were leading me into a hollow and empty life (it might just have been the hunger, but this notion is more poetic and stupid). With a lump in my throat, I call the familiar phone number. I don't care that the woman at Una Pizza is laughing at me on the phone. I don't care that my hands are shaking hard enough on the steering wheel to make the car swerve all over the road as I drive to Una. By 9:30 Friday night, I'm in front on the TV with thin crust, sausage pizza from Una. Since most of the kids are gone, I'm getting to actually chew my pizza instead of swallowing it whole while I answer 506 questions from BOM-BOM. I'm in heaven. My life is pathetic, but at least I'm eating pizza... Una Pizza.

Phil Jones is an amateur humor writer, and we stress the 'amateur' bit. You can avoid him on the web at www.BrainBullets.net.

~*~*~

Our Lifeblood Comes in Tiny Red Packets

By: Curt Brandao © 2004

While most Digital Slobs spend a huge chunk of their lives in cyberspace (or as functional shut-ins with high-speed connections, you pick the term) we do still exist, if in somewhat incorrect proportions, on the earthly plane.

Thus, we require sustenance to survive. But while Respectable People can get by on food, water, shelter and a healthy 401(k), the lives of Digital Slobs revolve around another life-giving force: Ketchup.

Somewhere between oxygen and "Matrix" sequels, ketchup plays a vital role in our lives. We become emotionally disturbed by its absence, make food choices based on its availability and act out for it with behaviors best described as addictive.

As kids, everything we ate was basically differently textured ketchup; from squirting it up and down hot dogs to creating glistening red spirals atop hamburger patties, childhood memories keep the condiment high on our tabletop pedestal. Ketchup's not only a tasty sauce, but also the closest most adults get to daily arts and crafts.

Psychologist Donna Dawson has identified "sauciological" types, based on ketchup use. Control freaks dunk into a well of ketchup; career climbers "splodge" the sauce in the middle of food; artistic flakes squirt and swirl ketchup in thin lines, and repressed conservatives dot the stuff on chow.

And, if you put ketchup in $200 porcelain saucers, you likely own Third World clothing factories manned by underage slave labor. But, these are just generalities (I think Kathy Lee Gifford keeps salsa, not ketchup, in a cruet, not a saucer, for example).

Since half of what Digital Slobs eat is pulled through our car's driver's-side window, ketchup is our major source of nutrition. Filled with cancer-fighting lycopene, it's one of the healthiest items fast-food joints offer. Ironic, then, that it's handed out for free, if doled out in tiny portions.

Ketchup's only downside, then, is its scarcity. Nothing sours a Digital Slob more than coming home with dinner all super-sized and ready, only to find no red packets in the bag. Thankfully, just as some people only sip booze in public but get "sauced" at home, most Digital Slobs keep three ketchup bottles in their pantry to supplement the measly ration society deems is our due.

Most cultures (even ours) subscribe to the virtue of moderation to keep the world from spinning out of control. It's a delicate balance, easy to upset.

Imagine a fast-food server asking a Digital Slob freed from civilized constraints, "How many packets of ketchup would you like?"

"Forty-five, please," he says, shattering the social contract.

Hushed silence befalls McDonald's. Everyone turns to look. The customer is always right, after all. What can be done except give him what he asked for? He can't be charged. There's no button on the register for ketchup. So everyone watches a mound of ketchup forms on his tray.

After a short, strained pause, the dam breaks and the crowd rushes the counter to loot all the ketchup. Riots ensue. The National Guard is called. Before you know it, governments are toppling and Mel Gibson is fighting learning-impaired giants.

So, whether it arrives in tiny packets or in thimble-sized cups, it's clear society is best served if we continue this ketchup double life, taking tiny dabs in broad daylight, sucking down gallons in the privacy of our homes.

Better to live a lie, after all, than to only eat at post-apocalyptic, ketchup-barren Taco Bells.

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's
production editor. Reach him at
at: cbrandao@starbulletin.com

~*~*~

Soap is Starting to Look Tasty

By: Frank G. Van Atta © 2004

Spanking's out, okra's in. That's the mantra of millions of mothers who routinely discipline their children by threatening to feed them okra when they're bad. "It really works," a single mom from Decatur, Illinois, said. "Just the thought of that slimy stuff makes my little Jenny's stomach turn, and she'll do anything to keep from eating it."

Similar success stories pour in daily to slimetheirmouth.com, the website that started the stampede away from the use of hot sauce as a disciplinary tool for children. "I didn't have anything against hot- tonguing," Fannie Czit, creator of the slimetheirmouth website, said of the now-discounted craze that swept the nation last year. "I just didn't think it would work. Like, how many little kids do you know that don't like mexican food? Almost none. And how many little kids do you know that like okra? Again, almost none. Duh! That's how slimetheirmouth.com was born."

And that simple little observation is about to make Ms. Czit rich. Her web site gets so much traffic that she has had to upgrade her server twice, rival book publishers are almost breaking down her door, and there is even a possibility of a movie - tentatively titled "The Okra That Slimed New York" - in the works.

But, all is not just books and bucks in Ms. Czit's slimy little world. For every mom that is ecstatic about "slime mouthing", there is another that thinks it's poppycock. "The threat of eating something slimy may cause little girls to mind their P's and Q's, but it has just the opposite effect on boys," according to May Spankum, mother of two girls and three boys. "Threatening a little boy with something slimy is like threatening a dog with a bone. Little boys eat boogers, for cryin' out loud - you think a little okra's gonna scare 'em?"

Joining the fight against "slime mouthing" are hundreds of thousands of moms living south of the Mason-Dixon line, who take offense at using a regionally-recognized vegetable as an alternative to spanking. "We've been eating okra in the south for generations," Ella Dragonscales of Hampton, Georgia, says. "I don't know anyone who doesn't like it, so using it as a boogey-man for children is ridiculous. If you want to find something that every person with the sense of a wood tick hates, try Scrapple. That's what I threaten my kids with, and they'd rather clean their rooms every day than have to eat a mouthful of THAT stuff."

Scrapple? That's made of pork scraps mixed with mush and then fried. That's why they call it SCRAPple. Yankee food.

"That stuff tastes so terrible, that even my daughters would rather eat worm salad than touch it," Mrs. Spankum said.

And so the debate rages: Okra, 1; Scrapple, 1.

Copyright© 2004 by Frank G. Van Atta http://fgvanatta.tripod.com/onlyinamerica/

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The Closet Eaters

By: Marta Martin © 2004

The people at my office don't eat. Oh, I am aware that they must be taking nourishment of some kind at some point, but it's certainly not in front of me! Maybe they are aliens.

All my life I've been surrounded by people who love to laugh and love to eat. I've been fortunate to have jobs where potlucks were scheduled weekly, holiday parties regularly and Christmas cookie exchanges annually. When I did a morning radio show we would beg for food and our listeners and local businesses would bring us donuts, biscuits and muffins. At least two places I have worked even went so far as to compile cookbooks of our favorite dishes. And once I even pushed the janitor's cleaning supply cart into the handicapped stall in the bathroom, locked the door and crawled back out, but that's another column.

Not every place I've been employed has embraced food on such a large scale. But there have been lunchrooms, refrigerators to store your items and even people seen leaving the building midday and returning with food. Some of them would even pop their heads in your office and say, "I'm running out to grab lunch. Can I get you something?" So far, in almost two months all I have heard about food in my office is, "There's the coffee pot, help yourself--it's free."

So, that much I know. These creatures do partake of fluids. And I have seen at least one person eat a piece of fruit, but never anything else. Now, I know that in some parts of the country people who eat only fruit do exist and lead normal lives. But if you live in West Virginia and eat only fruit that makes you a communist.

Now, I have seen food in the office. But aliens aren't dumb. It could simply be some sort of display to win my trust. I see the food. What I don't see is anyone actually eating it. Weird, huh?

The first time it was a broccoli salad. You know the good one with the red onions and raisins dressed with nice sweet-tart mayonnaise based dressing. Even the pieces of broccoli were cut small enough so that you didn't embarrass yourself trying to wedge a whole spear in your mouth. I lingered at the bowl where I saw a serving spoon and some small paper plates. Should I take some? Well, I told myself, no one offered you any. But it's obviously out here for anyone to enjoy. What if I get a small serving and then someone runs out of their office shouting, "That's not for you! Put that back!" I would die. The next time I walked past the bowl was gone.

More recently it was a sheet cake of which approximately one third was missing. The cake was yellow and the crumb of it was so fine that the cake looked almost like velvet. You just knew it would be sweet and smooth and not so crumbly and dry. The icing! At least three quarters of an inch thick and decadent! Caramel colored with chopped nuts on top.

"Peanut butter" I heard someone murmur outside my office door.

Peanut butter! I seriously considered snatching a piece even though I knew the sugar content from the icing alone would sicken me in a few minutes. I passed by the confection, pouting I'm sure, for no one had invited me to have a piece of this either. There's nothing worse than a fat lady asking, "Can I have a piece of cake?" Soon it, too, had vanished.

Now I know all about closet eaters. I was in business with a woman who had to eat every two hours. I'm not sure what was going to happen if she didn't, but I'm glad I never had to witness it. Driving down the Jersey coast one weekend every time we stopped to get gas she would disappear into the rest stop for almost an hour. Fearing for her health and well being, we sought her out. She was eating a three-piece chicken dinner for the third time that afternoon.

I spent the better part of my marriage in the kitchen, in the middle of the night crying into a bowl of mashed potatoes. Or was it ice cream? It doesn't matter. Is this an office full of eating disorders?

I'm still continuing my investigation. You can bet your ass that peanut butter cake is not going to get away from me next time.

~*~*~

Diet Trying

By: Melissa Baumann © 2004

I just love people who are dieting. They hit that sugar low and all of a sudden they're low-fat zealots ready to save you from the fiery grease pits of Hell. They sidle next to you at a picnic and ask if you know how many grams of carbohydrates are in that chip you're about to eat. I like to feign ignorance and say I was sleeping during nutrition class, so I was completely unaware that the potato chip is actually an oil-soaked, salt laden, weapon of mass destruction. Whew, glad you filled me in.

It's not as if I don't know what I look like. I'm not the kind of person who eats cherry pies and chocolate donuts and then looks over her shoulder only to discover - Wah! You could serve drinks off my fanny! When did this happen? I'm actually fully aware that much of what I eat is bad for me. I just like to wait until my waistband is so tight it's creating a flesh tattoo and my button is threatening to become a Mach 2 projectile if I exhale. That's when I plunge fork first into a new diet.

I've discovered a lot about myself through my weight loss escapades. Most importantly, I learned that of all the things married couples should do together "diet" is not one of them. Not that my darling husband wasn't carting around extra weight, he was. In fact, over the years, I've lost a great many pounds that my husband found for me and placed around his midsection for safekeeping. You know, in case I should want them back. He's really sweet like that. In time he'd amassed what stout guys like to call a "beer belly." This is because calling it a soda pop and snack cracker belly doesn't sound very macho. When he finally reached the point where a diet became a necessity, he picked the least restrictive diet he could find. He selected a groovy plan that allows you eat copious amounts of pure lard and hunks of beef. Which would be okay, except I didn't want to start my day with a steaming bowl of Cream of Meat. Plus, with all that grease coursing through your veins, the only safe exercise is running to the butcher for more food. That's a good caveman diet, but it's not for me.

When you're trying to lose weight, the grocery store is a chamber of horrors. All those doomed souls with their groaning bellies wandering mindlessly up and down the aisles. They're trying to pretend that the sugar-free pudding tastes better than the cardboard box it comes in but I know they're lying. The cardboard tastes better. It's a diet industry rule that in order to remove any superfluous calories you must remove all flavor from the food. They trick us with cheery red boxes and indulgent sounding entrée names like Italian Chicken Linguine, but inside that box is rubber chicken on a bed of yarn. Almost all diet food looks better than it tastes with the exception of cottage cheese. It looks exactly like the cellulite I'm trying to lose and tastes like plaque. It's one of the few examples of truth in advertising.

Lot's of people do well with someone watching over them, and while I didn't think I was one of them, I'll try anything once. Consequently, I've signed up for, and dropped out of, a number of group dieting programs. Each one worked for a time - until I found its fatal flaw. For example, in most of these programs, you're only supposed to watch your weight go down. When the pounds start climbing back on, they don't want to watch anymore. Truthfully, I knew I wasn't a good candidate when my counselor asked to see my "diet journal." While other dieters had faithfully recorded their food choices, I'd scribbled to-do lists, notes to the kids, grocery lists, garage sale maps and phone numbers on the pages. The only food markings were the ketchup smears and coffee rings.

I tried the South Beach and the Hollywood diet. The literature certainly made it sound as if I would come out of them rich and thin and glamorous. Funny, I'm still fat and cranky. Not to mention poor. Plus, I'm not supposed to swallow anything more than great gulps of air between small, controlled meals. I hyperventilate every time I walk through the cookie aisle so that diet is destined for failure.

A friend suggested I try the health-food angle, starting with daily wheat grass shakes to cleanse my system. Wheat grass mash looks strikingly like the green gunk you scrape off your shoe after mowing your lawn. The difference is that organic wheat grass must be purchased at a health food store and costs approximately the same amount as your first car. Apparently, making something without pesticides, preservatives or any kind of packaging is incredibly expensive. If I'm willing to sacrifice my kid's college savings, I can purchase my very own tree stump that will sprout vitamin rich mushrooms and attract edible bugs. There isn't enough butter in the world to make fungus and garden pests sound like a tasty meal.

I suppose I should just come to grips with the inner tube that encircles my hips. After all, it makes a lovely little bench for a small child. My arm flesh might continue waving long after my hands have stopped, but that's okay, too. The important thing is that I'm trying. Tomorrow, I'm starting a new "all things thin" diet that sounds really easy. I hope this means Wheat Thins, Thin Mints, wafer thin turkey and extra crispy thin chips because if it does, I'm going to do really well on this one.

-30-

Melissa Baumann is a freelance writer and reigning yo-yo diet champion living in Chesapeake, Virginia.

~*~*~

As God Is My Witness: I Will Never Be Hungry Again

By: Becky Cox © 2004

I love good food. This is easily confirmed by the size of my very bodacious buttocks. Some of the best restaurants in the world are located in the southeastern region of the United States. Brennan's in New Orleans, Schimmels in Jackson and Ye Olde Pink House in the Historic District of Savannah immediately come to mind. As a connoisseur of fine food and a gracious plenty of dining experience, I will tell you the number one place to eat in the south. I believe that you will be hard pressed to dispute this claim.

The very best place to eat in the south is at any Southern Baptist church when they have "dinner on the grounds" I promise you that you will truly believe you have had a religious experience. You will find yourself standing for the invitation and singing what seems like 370 stanzas of "Just As I Am" while the aroma of fried chicken finds it way into the sanctuary through the air conditioning vents. Your mouth waters and you asked God to forgive you for hoping that no one walks down that aisle today. You promise to pray for those lost souls while the preacher says the blessing before you eat your first bite of chicken and dumplings.

The menu will be something along these lines, give or take a pie or two:

  • 40 pound of fried chicken prepared by the more mature ladies of the church. Do not be confused by the mature ladies part. Believe me, the younger ladies are not permitted to prepare this entrée
  • 20 casseroles weighing in at least 10 pounds each to include but not restricted to macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cheese, eggplant, scalloped potatoes, baked beans and yet more macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, chicken and dumplings, chicken and rice and at least 3 pans of homemade dressing
  • Potato salad with mustard, macaroni salad and cole slaw, all made with Duke's Mayonnaise, mason jars filled with cucumbers and Vidalia onions marinating in vinegar, homemade pickles, (sweet, bread and butter and dill)
  • Fresh Conch peas, crowder peas, black eye peas, squash, okra and tomato and fried green tomatoes.
  • Fresh baked yeast rolls, biscuits with honey butter and corn bread baked in every conceivable shape known to man. Squares, wedges or lacy.

The dessert table: I truly believe that this is why God created fruit:

  • Peach, apple, cherry and blueberry cobblers
  • Pumpkin, sweet potato, lemon meringue pies
  • Banana, rice pudding, bread pudding and four pans of brownies
  • Jelly filled, coconut and chocolate cakes
  • Homemade ice cream, vanilla and peach, prepared by the church deacons with help from the children turning the crank

All served with sweet tea and Coca-Cola.

The moral to this story? WEAR YOUR FAT CLOTHES TO CHURCH!!!!!!!!

~*~*~

Pie Are Too Square

By: S. D. Youngren © 2004 http://sdy.org/

Some families have stories and traditions handed down from generation to generation. Not us. My brother and I never heard, from any of our relatives, any tales about the Old Country. The "old-time" stories we heard were largely about doing without certain modern conveniences, and were all set after the various migrations to California. About the only semi-pre-California story we did get was the one about how our paternal grandmother's maternal grandfather--all right, both of my grandma's maternal grandparents; I just like the sound of "paternal grandmother's maternal grandfather"--came from Missouri in the 1850s, but by the time my brother and I arrived there weren't any eyewitnesses. We didn't have a whole lot of unique-to-our-family rituals, either.

But we did have my great-great-grandmother's recipe.

Recipes tell stories too. I'm sure they can be very revealing, if you examine them. I haven't examined this one all that closely, partly because it only really has four ingredients, and partly because it's a recipe for vinegar pie.

According to family lore, the first vinegar pie came about due to a shortage of dessert ingredients, when the aforementioned grandmother's grandmother invented it out of what she had. This might explain the four ingredients, but not why the pie has continued to be made--and eaten--for so many generations. My grandma, the granddaughter of the original culprit, was the vinegar-pie baker. "Nobody makes vinegar pie like Grace," her big sister Lillie told me, happily munching a piece. When it came to cooking most regular foods my grandma was famously bad; if I had the space I could tell you the pancake story, the dumplings story, or the flapping-barbecued-chicken story. But she could make pies; my dad says my grandfather used to sit down and eat an entire (non-vinegar) pie in one sitting. So she could make pies, for some reason, and with vinegar pie she was the master. Or so I was told, and I've decided to take the family's word for it. Actually, I didn't have much choice, I never had a chance to sample anybody else's. Nobody else ever made the stuff for any gathering I attended. In fact not even my grandma made it very often; it was mostly just talked about . . . talked about and chuckled at. Everyone accepted that it was silly. It was silly, and it was part of us.

From the stories about it I gathered that the main thing about this concoction seemed to be that it was ours and no one else's--that no one else had ever entertained such a notion, and probably wouldn't do anything about it if they ever did. I was slightly surprised to learn fairly recently that my great-great-grandmother did not in fact invent the concept of vinegar pie. I even did some research and came up with several other recipes. The ones I found elsewhere are custardy things, made with eggs and lemonpeel and just a bit--oh, say a tablespoon to half a cup--of vinegar for, ah, flavor. Compared to our pie, they look pretty ordinary. Our vinegar pie cannot be confused with custard. It cannot be confused with lemon. The only thing that is confused, actually, is the person eating it for the first time. All such a person can come up with to say is, "It's . . . interesting." And, "No, thank you; this is enough." Our pie has a rubbery-yet-squishy texture, and, if I have not been deceived by my eyes and memory, it even bounced a bit when my brother dropped his first piece on our hostess' carpet.

"Would you like another one?" asked my grandma, who of course had baked it.

"No, thanks," my brother said. "That's okay." Whereupon my grandma laughed.

"That's all right," she said. "Not everybody likes it."

No, not everybody does, but I'm sure you're dying to see the recipe, so I won't hold you in suspense. Here it is:

Vinegar Pie

Mix together:
1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar

Mix and add:
1 cup 5% cider vinegar and 1 cup water

Pour into unbaked crust and bake in med. oven (350) about one hour or until center is almost set. We use a square pan and make the filling about 1 ½ inches thick. Best on the second day when cold.

According to my dad's Uncle Ed, the recipe was "refined" over the years by his mother, the daughter of the original vinegar-pie maker. Refined? It's one cup of each ingredient! And three of the four are flour, sugar, and water. If that doesn't scream "basic," I don't know what does. The fourth ingredient, the weird one, is the one the thing is named after. How much refining did she do? And what was it like before she refined it? And isn't "refined" an odd word to use in discussing vinegar pie? Especially ours?

The possibility has occurred to me that perhaps my grandma wasn't the only bad cook in the family. But be that as it may. Though I am not myself considered a bad cook, traditions must go on, and I took the opportunity some years ago to make a vinegar pie for a picnic. Not a family picnic; a gathering of understanding friends, with at least one sense of humor apiece. They knew about vinegar pie, and some were even eager to try it. And there were enough of them to maybe even finish it all off so my husband and I wouldn't have to. I cut the pie--square, of course--into small pieces. "Interesting," everybody said, though nobody had seconds. Like my grandma, I laughed indulgently. And why not? It was quite a success, in its way.

Almost as good as Grandma used to make.

----------

S. D. Youngren is the author of the fiction Web site "Rowena's Page," http://sdy.org/rowena/ and of the paperback Rowena Gets a Life, which is comprised of stories from the site. She was born and raised in San Jose, California, where she ate way more homemade Santa Rosa plum jam than vinegar pie. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Mark.

~*~*~