Monday, June 23, 2008

Nothing tastes better than a fond memory

Published June 23, 2008

In a box of old photographs on my mother’s table is a picture of my grandfather.
He’s sitting on an overturned orange bucket holding a slab of bacon over a backyard fire with a tool that looks like a homemade fireplace poker.
It was taken at a Hungarian bacon fry, the main event at all family picnics when I was a kid.
My grandmother would buy a slab of bacon from the butcher shop, and she would cut it into pieces about the size of postcards.
She would score parallel lines with a knife through the meaty side of these smaller pieces so that the meat would fan open — allowing the grease to drip out — when it was held over an open fire.
My grandfather would hold the meaty-side down close to the fire until it started to drip.
Then he would swivel around and hold the dripping bacon over a tray of bread that my grandmother had gotten ready. The tray — a cookie sheet covered with tinfoil — was on a small bench next to him and held more than a dozen slices of rye bread.
My grandfather would let the bacon grease drip on several slices of the bread, dabbing the bacon on them every now and then.
Once a piece of bread was adequately saturated, my grandmother would heap it with cut-up salad vegetables — iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers — that were in a bowl she held in the crook of her elbow.
Then my grandfather would drip a little more bacon grease over the salad.
There was usually a line at the bench waiting for one of the open-faced salad sandwiches because you couldn’t take one until it was deemed ready by either the chef with the bacon or the chef with the salad.
Every once in a while, my grandfather would take a big knife and slice off the tips of the bacon that had gotten crispy in the fire.
Those little nuggets were sprinkled on top of the salad like croutons.
If you were lucky, you were next in line when the bacon was being trimmed.
Back then no one seemed to care — or even know — about the evils of eating that much bacon grease.
All we knew is that it was delicious.
Once my grandparents got too old to host the family picnics, bacon fries got rarer and rarer.
And, once my generation became of age and started having families of its own, they became even rarer — because we knew about the evils of eating that much bacon grease.
Except, my grandparents were in their mid-90s when they died, so I’m not sure exactly how evil it really is.
Every once in awhile, I think that maybe we should resurrect those old bacon fries. Maybe we should have one at the Fourth of July picnic at my house.
We could do it just like my grandfather used to do in his Elyria Township backyard.
No doubt, it would be good, but it would never be the same.
I don’t have a bucket to sit on; we’d have to use lawn chairs.
And I don’t have one of those homemade spears for the bacon; we’d have to use a store-bought utensil.
My grandma isn’t here to cut up the salad fixings; we’d have to use a bag-o-lettuce.
And most importantly, my grandfather isn’t here to cook.
Well, maybe I won’t plan one of those bacon fries for the Fourth of July.
Because come to think of it, they weren’t about bacon at all.


patty said...

Your story moved me Patti.. this could be me telling this! Thanks so much for sharing your memories...

Ron said...

I remember the bacon fry all to well. My folks started using hamburger cookers to keep the precious bacon grease from dripping into the fire. I still have them and use them once in a while.

Michael J. Olah said...

Ahhhhhhh/ I grew up on the stuff. My dad actually fabricated metal rods with barbed "arrow heads" on the ends to hold the bacon as it cooked and shrunk. My brother and i talk about doing it again.

My grandparents were in their 90's too when then passed....

PAH said...

From another Patty, My parents' best friends hosted "Hungarian Picnic" every year while I was growing up. We called the bread dirty bread and I started enjoying it as a child. Now over 50 years later, the daughter of these Hungarians is still hosting those picnics at her home. Her father and my Mother are still with us to enjoy the memories along with my children and grandchildren and many new friends who love this!!

Suncoastgal said...

We grew up eating "greasy" bread too. Every Sunday at my aunt's lake house in NJ from May to September. The metal rods with the pointed ends were called (phonetically) nyoshes.(rhymes with galoshes). The chopped up vegetables were called something like 'chalamaudy'. I haven't a clue how it is written in Hungarian. Now I don't know where to buy the szalonna anymore. And no one makes Hungarian kolbasza anymore.