Suburban Summers (Ah-So Good!)
I was born a city girl. Concrete sidewalks, rows of triple-decker houses, here and there a tree, lots of cars. On my block there were mostly girls and we played on the sidewalks—jump rope, metal roller skates and games like tag, red light/green light and giant step. On the stoops, we played with our Barbies. It was rare that we got to play in each other’s homes. We walked to the library, the 5 and 10 cent store and very occasionally, the movie theater. In my fifth grade year, the family moved to the suburbs. It was only about 15 miles from the concrete sidewalks, but it was a world away. We went from a second floor apartment to a two story home with a driveway and TWO yards---front and back! Behind our house was about an acre of woods that seemed like Sherwood Forest to this city girl! There were lots of changes that came with suburban living. We no longer walked to school, we rode a bus. We took our trash to the dump, there was no curbside pickup back then. We got a lawnmower, lounge chairs with yellow plastic webbing and a hose and sprinkler that kept us amused (and cool) on hot summer days. We had cookouts. Epic cookouts! My mom would start prepping the day before, boiling potatoes and macaroni for salads, rounding up the ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles and barbecue sauces and making sure of her supply of paper plates. Early on Sunday the lawn would be mowed, my dad would light the grill and the cookout would be underway. There was always food enough to feed an army. My mother’s motto was: “Better to have too much than not enough.” No worries there! Her potato salad and macaroni salad filled extra-large bowls, every hot dog and every hamburger had a corresponding bun and there were platters and platters of meat. Naturally, my dad was the grill master. For countless generations men had stood before fire after the hunt, turning (sometimes burning) their bounty. I’m sure he had an order and a system to rotate foods across the coals, but all I recall is waiting impatiently for the first Ah-So chicken wings to be finished. This was a family favorite and exclusive to our geographic area. The bright red, sticky sweet Chinese style barbecue sauce (The Ah-So brand) was manufactured in New Jersey and very popular in the Northeast.
When I first moved to North Carolina, I was surprised (and a little panicky) to realize that it was unavailable in local stores. Thus began the North/South Ah-So Pipeline. Stocking up was a must during any trip back home and visitors headed to our island were encouraged to be carrying at least a jar or two. There was a summer when I found myself with only one jar left and no prospects for more. I searched online for a possible mail order source and was stunned to see the hefty price people wanted for this addictive sauce. It was totally understandable, but in the end my frugal Yankee nature won out and I spent the rest of the summer staring at the lone jar, wondering just what super special occasion would tempt me to crack it open. Maybe a visit from the President….or the Pope. Maybe.
At this very moment, I have enough Ah-So sauce on hand to make it through the rest of the cookout season. Yes, I did actually check to be sure. And now my taste buds have been ignited with the thought of a sweet, caramelized, smoky, slightly garlicky, crispy, sticky chicken wing---hot off the grill. While I prepare to head to the grocery store, I will share my mother’s five star recipe for Macaroni Salad. Feel free to double or triple the recipe for the true experience of our Sunday cookouts back-in-the-day.
MA’S MACARONI SALAD * * * * * (5 Star)
½ pound elbow macaroni
1 large onion
1 sour or dill pickle
3 Tablespoons pickle juice
I stalk celery
4 ounces frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup mayonnaise (or more)
Let 4 or 5 quarts of water come to the boil; add ½ pound macaroni and the 4 ounces of frozen peas. Let come to the boil again, stirring, turn off the heat, cover and let it sit for 20 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, chop up the 1 large onion, 1 stalk celery, 3 radishes, 1 pickle, chop and mix well. Add to macaroni and peas, add salt and pepper to taste, 3 Tablespoons pickle juice and about ¼ cup mayonnaise or more depending on taste. Mix well
Recipe copied from “The Best of Dad” by William Steeves, 1989