Now this was an adventure – going to someone else’s house for Sunday dinner for the first time. We were going to my mother’s new friend Ellie Cordes’ house.
She was the mother of one of my sister’s classmates, and shared the driver/chaperone duties with my mother when we would visit our official swimming hole, Friess Lake, near Holy Hill. After hours and hours of baking in the sun together, they formed a lasting relationship.
As our family entered Ellie’s house, we saw it was quite different from any of our relatives’. The first oddity was the menacing, wailing and sputtering aluminum contraption on the stove. It looked like a cartoon boiler ready to explode as the steam shot through the tip of the locked-down top. The pressure cooker eventually produced a rosy pink pork butt with tender cabbage, carrots and potatoes.
The other item I was transfixed by was the white block that was sitting on the butter dish. This was my first experience with oleo (uncolored and untaxed margarine), which was served with caraway crusted rolls and clandestine stories from Ellie’s husband, Frank, about his bi-monthly border-runs for the contraband.
After dinner, it got even stranger. Frank directed my dad to come in the kitchen for an after-dinner beer as the ladies moved to the living room. This was strange to me because I just never saw my dad in a drinking-beer-talking-sports situation before. Probably because he worked seven days a week and every night he would get home by 7:30 p.m. He’d fall asleep early then get up even earlier, at 5:15 a.m.
After they exhausted the sports conversation, the men shifted to favorite foods. They were both so intrigued by the other’s exotic musings that they set up a German-Italian “snack-off” for the upcoming Friday – and I got to tag along.
My dad arrived laden with a savory Sicilian arsenal. In the kitchen – Earl Gillespie was doing the Braves play-by-play on the transistor radio in the corner – and almost immediately the food started to flow.
My dad led off with oil-cured black olives and chunks of aged Pecorino Romano. Frank countered with Braunschweiger and raw onions on rye. (Both agreed they went down well with P.B.R.) Then came eggplant caponata vs. herring with tart pickles, and more beer. (It was hard to hear the radio as the gamesmanship and their voices shifted into high gear).
Then sesame encrusted bread cradling thin slices of hot capocolla topped with spicy peperoncini salad was countered with coarse German salami chunks on pumpernickel with freshly grated horseradish that had the entire neighborhood’s eyes welling up. (This was ethnic culinary “fear-factor!)
Finally Frank dug out a jar from the netherworld of his refrigerator. As soon as he muscled off the crusted lid, we didn’t even have to taste the Limburger – it was game, set, match.
I remember how much fun it was to see my dad just being a “guy” and having the time of his life.
That unmistakable aroma of Limburger wafted back into my memory recently. My wife, Angie, who has a love of the most odorous cheeses, had left a piece out on the counter and when we returned from a movie the house was pretty ripe.
The good news is ripe Limburger is one of the finest examples of washed rind cheese in the world. And the only place it is made in the US is the Chalet Cheese Co-op a bit just north of Monroe, Wis., by the affable Master Cheesemaker Myron Olsen.
Inspired by the snack-off, I put together a savory turnover where the Limburger seamlessly blended with lightly pickled late season apples, onions and walnuts, encased in a crispy caraway rye crust.
These are a two-bite adventures, perfect for a winter snack-off!