OK...enough immersion in the Family history for a bit.....I suspect our appetites for more Blumenthal mishigoss are sated for the moment so I will return to another subject nearly as close to my heart.....Food, Glorious Food.
Pete and I were an unlikely pair in many ways, but one of the things we had in common, besides a passionate devotion to Chicago jazz, was a love of sports so we often had our dinner by the dim light of the TV watching baseball (Pete's favorite...he had been a fantastic young pitcher and was on his way to join the St. Louis Cardinals Farm team when the train stopped at a place where the circus was in town ..... Pete wandered over to listen to the circus band and ended up giving up his baseball career to join the circus band.....typical hard nosed business acumen). We watched any sport available (not hockey, thank heaven...can't tolerate hockey) Basketball, football even Soccer sometimes, but I digress.
Getting back to corned beef.....sort of.......there is no use trying to sugarcoat a bitter pill......the truth is that Pete was an Alcoholic. During the time that we were together he was on the wagon for much of the time except for certain relapses, and the first time corned beef entered our lives was during one of these dismal backslides. I was working at Capitol Records at the time and Pete was home recovering from a broken hip. He could get around fairly well with either his walker or crutches so I gave him a task one St. Patrick's Day. I had bought a gorgeous corned beef and I put it in the pot with some cabbage, all the lovely pickling spices and a prodigous amount of water. "All you have to do", I told him before I left for work,"is turn on the burner at 4 pm and when it boils up turn it down to a simmer and put on the lid. It should be perfect when I get home at 6". And off I went went innocent as a babe.
When I arrived home at 6 and opened the front door my heart sank into my boots and I galloped into the kitchen to see if it was still there.....the kitchen that is. The upper 6 inches of the house was already swirling with black smoke so I grabbed all the potholders I owned and pulled the pot off of the stove and into the sink. After numerous cold water baths I was able to lift the lid and upon peering into the pot saw our dinner, a four by four inch lump of charcoal. There was absolutely no sign of the cabbage. I checked through the house for Pete but he was noticeably not there and I guessed that Demon Rum had somehow tempted him out between the lighting of the fire under the pot and my fortunate arrival. Sigh. Never mind......only the corned beef and cabbage died so no use getting your knickers in a twist, as they say.
The following St. Pat's Day I was home, having taken a leave of absence from work to nurse Pete back to health after surgery to remove the pins from his broken hip and I was determined there would be no more charcoal on the menu. I was going to handle this myself....no more fuck-ups, thank you. Into the cauldron went the gorgeous slab of corned beef, the pickling spices, bounteous amounts of water and then I went to the frig for the cabbage. Hell and damnation.......all I had was a head of red cabbage....no white. Well, why should that matter I thought....red cabbage tastes just like white cabbage to me.......pink corned beef and red cabbage......why not be flamboyant and use it. Into the pot it went in neat quarters and the burner was flipped on. We would have our feast watching basketball or something athletic. When the water boiled I turned it down to a simmer, popped on the lid and occupied myself with something else till the alarm went off telling me it was time to dish up the delectables. I lifted the lid of the pot and ......merciful heavens, faith and begorrah, fuck, piss, shit (thank you Dorothy) what the hell was that in the pot? I had put in beautiful pink corned beef and lovely red cabbage. While my back was turned someone had sneaked in and substituted a pot full of bright royal blue meat of some unknown variety and a similar colored ugly vegetable never before seen by human eyes. It slowly dawned on me that boiled red cabbage must be what the Persians use to dye their yarn royal blue for their oriental carpets........Who knew?
When my wildly beating heart settled down to a small roar I gingerly shaved of a slice of meat and a bit of cabbage and decided to sacrifice myself for the good of science. After nibbling fearfully I found that if I kept my eyes shut it tasted pretty damned good....almost like the real thing.....and I was really hungry......and a tightwad like me couldn't even contemplate wasting perfectly edible (?) food, could I? So, I bravely dished up two brimming platefuls, carried them into the TV room, turned out all the lights and Pete and I watched some game or other and devoured our blue corned beef and cabbage with as much gusto as if it had been real food, never daring to allow our eyes to stray to the contents of the plates till not a morsel of blue remained.
Afterward all Pete and I could talk about was what kind of veggie I could I have used to turn the potful a more appropriate bright Kelly Green. I decided it wasn't worth it to try.
The New Yorker covers: August 18, 1975
13 hours ago