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Robert Hitt Neill Column

‘Tis the season to be jolly, to eat well and lots of it

I’ve had occasion to eat with different folks at different places and different times a lot lately, as is usual at this time of year.  

Thanksgiving through New Years is the season to not only be jolly, but to eat well, and lots of it! I am a pretty good outside cook myownself, and am married to the best inside cook you ever ate behind, and anyone who ain’t blind can tell that Uncle Bob enjoys his grub.  

However, I was with a couple of guys for an hour’s drive down, then back, to a destination we had in common, and the conversation turned to food. I had not long ago smoked a turkey breast over sassafras coals, and was able to describe it so that one of my companions actually drooled a little, then in turn treated us to a dove shish-ka-bob supper he had hosted for some younger kin.

He had marinated the doves in Wishbone Italian for several days, then filleted the meat off of the breastbones and soaked it overnight in milk with “just a little hot sauce in it… well, come to think of it, the milk was kind of pinkish with the hot sauce.”

The kicker was that, as host, he took only a few of the shish-ka-bobs on his plate, but when he went back for seconds, the youngsters had cleaned the platter!

Our driver, a lean type not given to much food discussion, contributed that he was fine eating whatever was on the table: “I just eat to live.”

Whereupon the dove cook replied, “Well, I live to eat!”

He and I spent the rest of the trip trading recipes for gourmet meals, like Venison Stroganoff (Betsy made for Thanksgiving), Barbequed Bass (that’s the fish Bass, not the Bass Singers), Rabbit Shish-ka-bobs with mint sauce baste, Goose Gumbo, Duck Shish-ka-bobs with orange sauce baste, blackened venison steaks, Oysters Johnny Reb….

You get the idea. I don’t know what Ump got to eat for supper, but Betsy fed me Venison Chili that night, and I was ready for it!

I didn’t think about it until later, but the three of us never mentioned desserts during our trip, although at least two of us, who live to eat, outwardly appear to enjoy sweet stuff to the fullest.  

I will put my Barbequed Bananas or Campfire Peaches, served over ice cream, up against anyone’s best Karo pecan pie, or even a good lemon meringue or key lime pie – except Betsy’s, of course.

I’m a sucker for Pralines or Divinity, though I fail to understand why Betsy won’t attempt Divinity on a humid day.

Two of my Aunts – Rose and Caryl – claimed championships on “burnt sugar” cakes, and I’d have hated to be the judge if they’d had a cookoff. Betsy took Aunt Caryl’s Grape Pie recipe and revised it into the finest dessert known to man: Muscadine or Scuppernong Pie – and once she combined the two!

Oh, I know: the Food Nazis are going to say, “Look at all the calories, carbohydrates, and cholesterol one ingests from eating those things!  BAD!”

Okay, we all know, especially at this time of year when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, that we should go back to the Bible for our Rules to Live By. I done that, and cannot find ONE reference to calories or cholesterol, nor, as an aside here: decaffeinated coffee. Matter of fact, Betsy’s Lemon Meringue Pie has often been described as “Heavenly!”  

Less than a week after the aforesaid trip, the three of us men got back together for another lunch, where I was the host, and I went for what we used to call a “Junglunch”: sardines, smoked oysters, Gouda cheese, bologna, Viennies, crackers, and bellywarsh.

Our eat-to-live representative turned his nose up at the sardines and oysters, but did pretty well on the bologna and cheese, and the two of us who “live to eat” wiped out a can each of sardines and smoked oysters. It doesn’t have to be high-falutin’ food to satisfy the Soul, which is also Biblical.

I may be painting with too broad a brush here, but I can’t help but recall Brother Dave Gardner’s quote, warning, “Don’t let me have nobody ‘round me like yon Cassius, ‘cause he have that lean and hongry look!”  

Have you ever seen a skinny Santa Claus, or heard anyone referred to as “Jolly” who isn’t rotund as well?  Why, Jesus Himself fed the 5000 with a couple of cans of flat sardines and some crackers – physically and spiritually!  Eat well and have a Merry Christmas!