Saturday, May 11, 2013

Favorite Family Foods Connect the Generations

April 29, 2013

Peg's Sloppy Joe
Quick Easy Boston Beans
Potato Chips
Gizdich Apple Juice
Vella Merlot

Peg's Sloppy Joe from Aunt Peggy
Quick Easy Boston Beans from America's Test Kitchen

I grew up in Central New York, surrounded by family. Most of my mother's and my father's many siblings lived nearby. Gatherings with with aunts and uncles and cousins were frequent. I remember a summer picnic at Green Lakes State Park when I couldn't have been more than 10 years old. I don't remember the occasion, if there was one, or what trouble we kids got into, but I remember my Aunt Peggy's Sloppy Joe. I'm sure there were many other traditional picnic foods: hot dogs and hamburgers and potato salad and potato chips and soda and Kool Aid. But for some reason I remember the Sloppy Joe, simmering in a sauce pan sitting on the charcoal fire underneath the trees.

When I moved away from home, after college, one of the recipes I was sure to take was for this simple, homey, comforting summer dish. I've made it many times over the years, and even experimented some with the ingredients. But for this Sunday Dinner (fixed on the Monday after the Big Sur International Marathon where, on Sunday, Diane and I did the 10.6 mile walk) I stuck with the original recipe.

The Sloppy Joe is very easy to make: mix together the ingredients and simmer for several hours. The recipe does not specify any particular kind of ground beef but I used 93% lean. I have made it with fattier beef and it came out a little greasy. The fat aids flavor but I gave that up to gain a meatier, less greasy, texture. I added additional water as the Sloppy Joe simmered and became too dry, perhaps as a result of the reduced fat. The result was a dish that was hearty and good and familiar. The meat was tender and well flavored. We served it on slider buns, rather than regular hamburger buns, as these fit our appetites better than full-sized buns.

The main side dish was a version of baked beans from the recent America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook.  Baked beans is one of those dishes where I am still searching for the perfect recipe. Much to my surprise, this recipe, which uses canned beans, is about as good as any that I have tried which use dry beans and hours of soaking and baking. It is easy to make, taking less than an hour, and produced a really tasty side dish. It was a little soupy, I probably should have simmered it a while longer, but that's a problem easily solved by using a slotted serving spoon. The beans only got better with time as we had then in subsequent meals.

I made a crudité with left over asparagus, jicama, carrots, cucumber, and celery which added crisp fresh flavors to the meal with no cooking. We had purchased a gallon of apple juice at Gizdich Ranch returning from Big Sur and it was a flavorful and refreshing beverage which went well with this meal.

It's probably been over 50 years since that picnic at Green Lakes and I still remember my aunt's Sloppy Joe. It's funny what you remember from long ago and how those memories can be triggered when you don't expect it. Taste, odors, and sounds often provide the key to unlock these pleasant memories from long ago. It is so important to hang on to your family's food traditions and to pass them along to the next generation so they, too, will have memories to cherish.

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