Memorial Day Cooks remembered in food

Wednesday, May 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Although grilling has become synonymous with Memorial Day, there are other memories I associate more vividly with the day.

I think of fried chicken, its deep-fried aroma so intense you virtually inhale the flavor, tasting the crisp crunch before the first bite.

That was my grandmother's specialty, the meal she served when relatives gathered after they had carried armloads of fragrance-heavy lilacs and pots of geraniums to the cemetery.

My other grandmother made homemade lemonade, with squeezed lemon halves bobbing among the ice cubes. Today, to echo some of that flavor, I add squeezed lemon halves to lemonade from the freezer. And she always had what she laughingly called "stinky cheese" on hand, usually a Danish blue or Camembert.

My mother usually contributed baked beans, potato salad, chocolate chip cookies and pies.

If we had vegetables, they made no impact. I focused on the deviled eggs and gigantic black olives.

Food isn't all I associate with Memorial Day. Our red-jacketed school band, in heavy winter uniforms, would parade to the cemetery under the fierce sun, perspiration trickling down our backs.

At the time, we lived in Iowa, in a true Music Man small town. A company had made a whiz-bang trip through town to sell instruments and uniforms to all, even unmusical me. I marched in the front row, playing trombone, out of step and out of tune.

And when a lone bugler played Taps from a
far hillside at the end of our march, I'd cry. Is any sound more sad?

Years later, much is different. The cast of people has changed. The menu has evolved. Memorial Day menus usually mean grilling and salads. I never fry chicken. It's easier to buy KFC.

But, like the sound of Taps, Memorial Day still calls up memories of our lost heros, no matter how they were lost.

I snip purple blossoms of chives to garnish a potato salad. As I do so, I remember Pat Tillinghast, the late co-owner of New Rivers restaurant. On another spring day, we had strolled to admire the herbs at her home in Pawtucket. Her chives were blooming that day.

When I mix lemonade and set out the "stinky" cheese, I think of my grandmother. And I heap a bowl with giant black olives, as my other grandmother used to do, and think of her, too.

All are tiny gestures. But it's my way of saying, "Hello. I'm thinking of you. We had good times and good meals, didn't we?" And it's a reminder to enjoy the people still around us.

Last weekend, I drove to Vermont to meet my new granddaughter. I brought food and volunteered to cook for the weekend.

While I prepared a potato gratin, green beans and Key lime pie, my son heated the grill on the deck to cook the steaks.

He came inside to open the wine and set the table.

Suddenly, we heard a crack. The heat of the grill, about 10 inches from the house, had broken a very tall floor-to-ceiling window. "That window cost $600!" mourned my son.

We knew a grill shouldn't be used under a porch or garage ceiling, because of the danger of fire.

But even on an open deck, a hot grill near a house is a hazard. We learned the hard way. Our steak dinner cost $600.