Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
Rule #8 on Annie Acorn’s How to Live Life Well List states that no warm weather holiday is complete without food cooked on a grill. Obviously, when you have been on this Earth more than half a century, you have lots of cookout memories you can call forth, but Memorial Day always brings out some of the best of them.
When I was in school, this particular holiday marked the end of classes, and the beginning of summer. Now I ask you, what young heart wouldn’t gladden at that?
When we still lived as a young family in Columbus, Ohio, we often stuffed ourselves into our two-toned blue Pontiac and headed west from The Double, as we referred to the duplex we shared with my paternal grandmother and great-aunt, to the home in Crawfordsville, Indiana of my maternal grandmother. Here my uncle would pop out of the front doorway and help Father unload all of our baggage, while Grandma stood on the porch in her starched cotton dress and waited to greet us.
Cool even in the heat of summer due to shade from a large maple, I loved that front porch as a child, part of the mystic being that it contained the wooden door to the tornado cellar. I only remember being allowed into the cellar twice in my life – once as a young girl and once as an adult. Both memories are basically the same, a dark cramped space filled with spider webs and damp places -not a spot where I would’ve cared to spend very much time, with or without a tornado.
Often Mother would spread a quilt beneath the maple, on which we would read our storybooks or play for hours with our cut-out dolls. Birds sang above us in the branches, and squirrels frolicked around us. It was Heaven!
This grandmother’s tiny house was set on a huge double lot that was filled with what to us girls were amazing things. There was a cistern that we all knew was dangerous, a two-and-a-half outhouse that was no longer in use and, therefore, drew us to it, and an orchard that yielded the best apples, cherries, and plums that I’ve ever eaten.
My earliest Memorial Day cookout memory is in this backyard. For some reason, I see Grandma’s peonies as being in bloom, although they must’ve been the very last blooms of the season. They, of course, were covered in ants, and so we stayed away from them.
The grill was quite a new-fangled gadget. Small and set low to the ground, Father and my uncle were assumed to be in charge of it.
As a chemist, it was understood that my father would take care as he lined it with foil and started the coals, although I’m not sure quite how the dots had been connected there. My uncle’s main chore was to insure that none of us girls roamed too close to the fire. Father, of course, was now taxed with double duty, as it was known far and wide that no one handled the delicate balance between ice and salt in the hand-cranked ice cream machine as well as he did.
Grandma had already worked her magic at the stove, readying her cooked egg custard that formed the base of the ice cream, which only came in one flavor – vanilla.
As usual, Father duped me into turning the crank by announcing quite loudly that I could only have the pleasure of doing so if I acted like a lady, thus turning the manual labor into something to be strived for. Knowing that Grandma had already set out the ingredients for her homemade hot fudge sauce made the work go much easier, as did the aromas wafting toward me from the meat that was cooking nearby on the grill.
We had hamburgers and hot dogs, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and applesauce made from the tart apples that grew in the orchard. Dessert was an assortment of homemade fruit pies, cookies, and a large chocolate cake with white frosting that I can still see waiting in its tin cake safe on the Hoosier kitchen.
The day was warm, and we were working outside, so Mother kept a steady stream of iced aluminum glasses heading our way that were filled with a choice of homemade lemonade or my grandmother’s world-famous grape-flavored fruit punch. [Recipe for Grandma’s Witches Brew Punch]
I have no idea what my grandmother mixed her punch in. It was always ready and waiting in bottles and pitchers on Grandma’s enclosed back porch when we arrived, since it tastes better after the ingredients have blended together.
Years later, when I developed the habit of serving it at New Years, the only thing I owned that was big enough to hold a full batch was a huge enameled punch bowl, which was similar in size to a small football field. A large spoon was needed to stir the mixture together, and several gallon milk jugs were required to hold it. Son #1 at an early age declared I looked as if I were mixing a batch of Witch’s Brew, and the name stuck, at least in our small family.
This particular punch contains absolutely no alcohol, but it tastes like it must. Consequently, since I was serving it on New Year’s Eve, I have had several guests who have sworn that they have gotten drunk on it. Oh, the power of suggestion! In point of fact, it’s the quantity of fruit juice contained within it that you have to consider, as we were frequently reminded by Mother when we were small children.
It’s been many years since I enjoyed this, my first marvelous cookout. The orchard and outhouse are both gone, but my uncle still lives in my grandmother’s house in which he was born.
I will be spending a good part of Memorial Day at a cookout with some thirty members of my family. We’ll have hamburgers and hot dogs as well as all kinds of desserts, but somehow, it won’t seem the same to me.
Father won’t have taken care with the coals and the ice, and Grandma’s vanilla ice cream, homemade hot fudge, and fruit punch will be missing. As I make new memories with the next generations in my family, I’m sure that I’ll pause and remember the earlier ones, who seemed to be able to take so much less and turn it into oh-so-much more.
Happy Memorial Day!
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