Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Don’t ask what you’re eating, if it’s already et, says Uncle Bob

Once summertime gets here and the Swimming Hole is in full duty, there is a small group of special friends who meet out there every couple of weeks for lunch; not just any old lunch, but the main ingredients are canned smoked oysters, sardines in mustard sauce, crackers, Gouda cheese, ROC colas, ‘tater chips, and one of the regulars generally manages to drive by a good hot tamale place on the way to Brownspur.

It’s an old fashioned Jungle Lunch, where the place or the fellowship is more important than the grub.

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I invited a companion of the old football wars at Ole Miss last week, and he looked slightly guilty (as he should have!) when he confessed, “Uncle Bob, I have never eaten a sardine. Never tasted one, although my daddy owned a country store!”

Never eaten a sardine! Obviously, he’s not a member of a Baptist Choir, I noted. True, he agreed; he’s a life-long Catholic.

It is tempting to chase a theological rabbit here, for we discussed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but this is a column on foods, so we’ll stick to the subject.

We decided on a more private lunch, to break him in to the peacefulness of the Swimming Hole, and I thereby introduced him to Shrimp Sauce on bologna & cheese sandwiches.

He’d never had that, either. Well, it’s not exactly a shrimp sauce as one sees sold in the stores, probably made and bottled by yankees. Betsy makes it up from a recipe she inherited from Miz Janice, who got it straight from Miss Ethel Dean.

Actually, I’ve heard it argued that it’s more of a remoulade sauce. Whatever, it is wonderful on shrimp, and Betsy never makes up a small batch of it.

Leftovers go into the fridge, and I live for the next week on thick bologna and cheese sandwiches, until she hides the remaining shrimp sauce from me. Mickey agreed that it was worthwhile (he did have some experience with bologna!) and ate a couple of sandwiches, commenting on odd tastes.

When we go out to Lillo’s, the waitress always asks if I want anchovies on my salad.

My answer is always, “Yessum, and the anchovies of anyone else who did NOT want them on their salad tonight!”

I love those little salty fish, and have enjoyed them straight on crackers, as well as on – believe it! – jelly doughnuts! The best kind come wrapped around capers, which are green (unripe) black peppercorns, I understand. I used to love capers until I had a colonoscopy once. But that’s also another story, best untold here and now.

Miz Janice, my mother, tried to be original on school lunch sandwiches when I was riding School Bus Number 13 on the old Black Dog Line. She made up a sardine mixture which was wonderful, though they weren’t mustard sardines.  

These were plain flat sardines (recommended for breaking a fellow choir member from eating onions right before choir practice) and I preferred catsup on the bread before smearing the stuff on it.

My favorites were salmon croquette sandwiches – still are. For some reason I don’t care for the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, though Br’er Beau loved them.

Maybe three times a year I’ll eat a peanut butter sandwich if it’s got honey or sog’gum molasses on the bread: what we called “Long Sweetening,” back in those days.

I do remember that Br’er Beau’s favorite sandwich was catsup and grape jelly. But then, he was born with two thumbs on one hand. Weird kid.

Mother also had a hot dog mixture for school lunches that, just like the sardine mixture, I’ve never seen duplicated. It was pretty good, but you didn’t really want to ask what was in it, kind of like, you’d better not read the label on the can if you like viennies. Some things, it’s just better not to know!

For instance, Mickey asked if we had any olives or pickles to go with our bologna and cheese and shrimp sauce sandwiches out at the Swimming Hole last week.

Seems like by the time he played football at Ole Miss the upperclassmen had quit making the freshmen players perform Olive Race Relays, so I had to tell him about those races, in my day.

He doesn’t eat olives anymore, either!