Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Taste of the Real Hot Stove League

(From Sunday's Times and News-Star)

Baseball calls its offseason the “Hot Stove League.” It got the name back when potbellied managers would sit around potbelly stoves and talk all winter about player swaps, each trying to cook up a winner for the spring.

Something’s always cooking in the Hot Stove League, though most of it these days involves court dates and arbitration. It used to be a lot more fun, back before things like steroids, replay, guaranteed contracts, fake grass and Tropicana Field.

There is, though, a Hot Stove League that never disappoints. For years, it got on my nerves. Now, I drink it in.

Since I was a little boy, I have listened to people, mostly women, recite recipes over the dinner table. It usually goes like this:

You sit down to Sunday dinner and somebody takes a bite of pot roast.

“How did you fix this pot roast? This is the best pot roast I have ever eaten!”

“Well, I don’t know. It’s not much. It’s just…”

“It’s HEAVEN!”

“Well…I guess I do like my momma used to do. We killed the cow on Thursday, around sundown. Got it field dressed by 8. Got to cut the meat just right. That’s where a lot of people mess up. Then we pounded it, seared it for 4 minutes, salt and peppered it, put it in the oven on 68 degrees for a calendar day, put it on the smoker all day Saturday, prayed over it before church and, well, there you go. Just sort of thrown together really. It’s not much.”

“Well I will have to remember that. Can I borrow a pencil? Or maybe even a typewriter?”

And on an on. It works the same for fruit salad, deviled eggs, squash casserole, all your major meats.

Of course, such talk rarely happens at breakfast. No one compliments a Pop-Tart or a fried egg. And at some places, the meal’s not what’s important. I can’t imagine a guy asking a waitress at Hooter’s how they get their wings to “do like that.”

But it’s important at home. As a Southerner, I’m ashamed to have failed for years to appreciate this traditional recipes-as-dinner-conversation nuance. It used to irritate me if the compliments started right after the prayer and first bite, because then the majority of conversation would be recipe-oriented, right through dessert.

“Oh my word, this banana pudding is divine. How in the world did you get the bananas to DO that? And the meringue. My god, the MERINGUE?!”

Sort of wore me out, the same way it would wear me out if an oilman stood beside me and talked about petrol refining while I filled up my car.

But now I more or less embrace it. I like to hear people talk about something special they’ve accomplished, and cooking seems more and more a lost art these days. Besides, they can’t be any more proud of cooking it than I am of eating it. I’m the winner.

I view such conversations today as I would two guys riding in a rebuilt ’57 Chevy.

“Boy Earl, she’s a-purrin’! How’d you git ’er to run like ’iss? This thang spins like a top is all. That’s all. Jus’ like a top!”

Beautiful. The older I get, the more I appreciate the subtle underpinnings, the little things that mean a lot, and often take a lifetime to acquire.