In a lot of ways I’m a simple guy. In a world where celebrity chefs and experimental cuisine are a thing, I’m sure some of my more sophisticated friends would find my taste in food horribly pedestrian. Cooking here at Fortress Jeff tends largely towards traditional – shocking, I’m sure. For most meals there’s a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. With a few exceptions, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday, my table wine is tap water over ice.
While my menus are not as limited as they once were, there are a few favorites that appear regularly in the rotation. I can make a roast that’s a dead ringer for the traditional Sunday meal at my grandparent’s house. My lasagna tastes like it came straight out of my aunt’s kitchen. I like the tastes, smells, and textures I grew up enjoying. I may not be passing them to the next generation, but keeping them alive in this one is important to me.
Some tastes – mountain bologna from B&B Meats, cheese steak subs from D’Atri’s, and cheeseburgers from Scotty’s – I’ve given up on ever being able to recreate. There are, however, a few tastes of home that I’ve been working for years to replicate. The longest running effort in my kitchen has been the effort to put together a basic ham salad that gets close to the taste I remember coming out of Love’s Grocery in Lonaconing. Finding that flavor has been something of an obsession of mine… and I think I’ve finally managed to crack the code.
I would never claim to have the ingredient list right, but I’ve finally got the flavor – or at least something close to the flavor I remember. The internet is thick with recipes that try to raise simple ham salad to an art form – but simplicity is the soul of the whole “salad” family. It’s a food specifically designed to stretch the budget from an era when people of necessity made use of every scrap of meat in their kitchen. To me, ham salad on white bread is the taste of summer, ranking right alongside the BLT and corn on the cob.
So what’s the big secret? Apparently in my incarnation the missing ingredient was Miracle Whip. Being a Hellman’s household I never considered it before, but switching between the two changed the entire “flavor profile” of my ground ham concoction. I can’t imagine that any scientist anywhere has ever had a more joyful eureka moment.
So this Sunday morning I’ve got that going for me. If I don’t manage to get anything else accomplished today, I’ll still consider the day a wild success.