In honor of the New Orleans Saints’ spicy victoire over the bland and tasteless Colts in Super Bowl 44, I humbly offer this little recipe — and a story to go with it.
It is an established fact that my mother could not cook. She was terrible at it, and for two good reasons: when she was a child her father made her get up every morning to make cornbread in an old cast-iron skillet. He didn’t feed his daughter; she fed him because she was a female and he lost his wife in childbirth, when my mother was born. His little girl was apparently supposed to be his substitute wife, because God forbid he should make his own damn cornbread. My mother quickly came to resent this, and my brothers and I never blamed her for it.
The second reason: when I was six, she went away to The Best Pharmacy School in the World™, four long years of terribly demanding study. (Now it’s six.) In the meantime our all-male household learned to slap bologna between two slices of bread and call it supper. When she got back home to our grandparents’ drugstore, she worked 8, 10, 12 hours every day on her feet, and didn’t see why she ought to have to keep on working once she got home. My brothers and I never blamed her for that, either. Who could?
The Bro’s and I all became good cooks, as men ought to be, because there’s not always going to be a woman around to do your bidding. If you’re Gay, there’s never going to be a woman around, so you’d better know the difference between asparagus and an anchovy.
My mother was good with a few dishes; her onion dip, her potato salad—and I’m trying to think whether there was a third one; maybe her fruit salad with the cute little ’60s marshmallows. That was the level she was on foodwise. Couldn’t fry a chicken to save her life. Then there was a dish so notorious that the mere mention of it now provokes groans: hamburger gravy on boiled potatoes, the most ghastly stuff you ever saw. (And saw, and saw, and saw.)
Women have every right to resent cooking. But since they invariably like to eat, the rational ones ought to learn a few recipes, just in case.
NOW IT HAPPENED that while my mother was lousy in the kitchen, she took a bit of interest in cookbooks; in fact, all the ones she bought date back to the first years after her lastborn son went to college. She didn’t have males to press into service anymore. (Not that we ever resented that!) When she died, we found 50 or 60 cookbooks in her kitchen, all © 1970, the year I left home. My brother Steve, who accepted his one-third share of the cookbooks, examined them all to see whether the pages needed cutting. He was certain she’d never cracked them open. He’d turn a page and say, “No ketchup stains here.” He’d turn another one in the casseroles section and declare, “Not even Campbell’s mushroom soup.”
(We all cooked for her when we went back home, and in her later years we teased her without mercy.)
This is a long prologue for announcing that I seem to have made it my mission lately to actually make some of the things in Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook. Page 1, recipe 1, dips.
I have kept this cookbook because in some ways, it’s not bad. It’s terribly out of date, the food has no sophistication whatever, everything is geared to time-saving devices and the TV Dinner Generation; but still, it has some good features, including an herb-and-spice chart on the inside covers that I use today. (The competing Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks, which she also bought, dump MSG in everything.) Betty’s pictures of vegetables are useful and so are the basic preparation hints. Ol’ Betty apparently assumed that young brides didn’t know jack-shit in the kitchen, so she would teach them to be Happy Homemakers. In other words, perfect for my mother—and not bad for a Gay guy just starting out.
I have made four of the dips so far. This adventure did not start out well. Cape Cod Dip calls for an envelope of dry onion soup mix, 2 cups of sour cream and a 7-ounce can of minced clams, drained. The accompanying commentary suggests using thin strips of turnip or zucchini, which it calls “surprises.” Well, yes, it would still be a surprise today to see a turnip on the cocktail table.
Anyway I tried it. The canned minced clams were like eating bits of rubber. Maybe tuna would work but I don’t guarantee it.
Harlequin Dip uses sour cream, mayo, ripe olives, snipped chives, Worcestershire, mustard and a tiny bit of curry powder. Well, do you know how old my mother’s curry powder was? The internet hadn’t been invented; neither had the Zip Code. A&P was still a grocery chain. Streisand was an unknown Jewish girl from New Yawk who could Get It For You Wholesale. Yes, the dip was edible, but why would you bother?
Next came Artichokes with Onion Dip; this I had hopes for, because I’ve eaten real artichokes. This Betty Special called for frozen artichoke hearts, sour cream, mayo and… a tablespoon of dry onion mix. The artichokes were tasteless; the dip was not as bad as feared.
Finally there was Peppered Cheddar Dip: sour cream, a cup of shredded cheddar, 1/4 cup of chopped onion, 3 tablespoons of minced bell pepper, a little salt, some milk, a few drops of hot sauce; refrigerate at least one hour.
Honey, four days wouldn’t give this dip any flavor. The sour cream overwhelms everything and the cheddar is undetectable. I wasted a dollar’s worth of cheese on this thing. (I also didn’t add the milk; the sour cream is plenty runny as it is.)
On future Super Bowl Sundays, to honor Drew Brees and the Saints’ victoire, you might try this, though it will still be bland:
Indianapolis Colts Dip
1 1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C minced onion
1/2 C minced bell pepper
1/2 t. flavored salt (garlic, celery, onion, seasoned, anything with some flavor to it)
1 t hot sauce
and all the dead curry powder in your house
Mix, cover, refrigerate “at least one hour,” and for God’s sake don’t serve it with a freakin’ turnip.++