Messy Fingers, Greasy Chins, and Gravy Stains Vol. 2 A

Jul 12


…or maybe I should say, “home is not always cookin’ on the range!”. Summer time and the good food is OUTSIDE . So many wonderful times come to mind – those many cookouts, wienie roasts, beach parties, back yard BBQ’S , or a luau on the deck in San Francisco’s North Beach! I know if you are reading this, the same thing is bubbling up from your noggin- sweet affairs with your family, school mates, neighborhood friends, gatherings with folks from your work; they all were well received and remembered of summers past.

I am 7 years old. My stepfather left on a Saturday at 4 AM with some friends for a charter boat trip, leaving from Long Beach, Cal. Mom didn’t really say much during the day-all went as usual. It was February and it got dark early. About 330 PM, the two old pickups rolled thru the gate at “The Acre” ; a the bunch of sun burned, smelly and tired guys rolled out. Buck ( my step dad) had me gather up all the trimmings from the fruit tree pruning he had saved and some scrap wood. There was a crude , concrete block, smoker out back by the rabbit hutches that I had never seen used. He cleaned out the old ashes and started a fire. All the guys were cleaning big long fish pulled from gunny sacks that had been packed in ice. I asked what kind of fish  they had caught. They were fierce looking Barracuda. They had run into a school of them and pulled in as many as they could. I don’t believe there was any limit. Not a popular fish, but these guys had plans for them.

Cleaned and cut into chunks, they were layered into the smoker. They didn’t pull them out until about 10 PM . It was the sweetest, most wonderful smoked fish …my first taste. No seasoning at all. Can’t say I’ve had better since. Barracuda? Who would have thought. These were guys who were from simple beginnings…they farmed, hunted, fished, grew wonderful gardens, and there was always simple , yet delicious food on the table-even if it was made from scrap 2 X 4 ‘s and set in the side yard. Mom served her famous potato salad , home made bread , and a simple sauce made with dry mustard, mayonnaise, chopped dill pickles, and lemon juice. What a time! Oh, I think they drank a lot of beer too.

In Southern California, if you lived close to the beaches, everyone knew about Grunion. We called them “Grunion Runs”. Of the smelt family, they beach themselves at certain times of the month…full moon I believe( I’ve forgotten exactly) to spawn. The females wriggle into the soft sand, lay their eggs and the males pass over, fertilize them and then it’s back out to the sea. The tide schedules that were published about the runs….everyone had them and we had beach parties to coincide-whatever day of the week, no matter.

Not so fast there, little Grunion! There was an Army ( or a Navy ) of kids , at the ready…. with our buckets; scooping up as many as we could grab. No nets…not allowed. There were some adults as I remember, but mostly this was for kids. We had to work fast! Before you knew it , the run was over. Some more late night activity. These fish always came at night, so getting home with our bounty means getting to bed late. Most of the little kids couldn’t last, but I stayed up. Mom wouldn’t let me clean them, so I had to help with all the “guts’ and cleanup. She heated oil in the big old ancient cast iron Dutch oven. Then we rolled the little silver fish in flour, dipped them in  eggs, and into corn meal. Slid them into the oil until all were golden and crunchy…heads and all. I didn’t care, but the little kids wouldn’t eat the heads. The cat made out.

There was delicious cole slaw, more potato salad, sweet ‘n sour home grown beets, lots of fresh lemon. Mom made more of her tarter sauce as she had for the smoked Barracuda . Maybe there would be some of her famous chocolate cake or Deep Dish Apricot Cobbler (still my absolute favorite) . I was able to have as many sodas as I wanted-no body was watching. I believe there also was lots of beer again…I’m almost sure of that.

ROSS:’ FAVORITE DEEP DISH  APRICOT COBBLER ( I will have to use your cooking knowledge here. This recipe is in “chef’s speak”-not very detailed or precise . )

Heat oven-350 degrees    Pan- oven proof 9 X 13 or 12″ round-heavy is better. Cast iron , glass or enamel is my choice. It is best if you use one at least 3-4″ deep. Wing it!

Place in a heavy sauce pan , 1 1/2 lb. dried apricots-then simmer slowly in cold water, not quite to cover, with 1 1/2 c. of sugar, 1 tbsp. fine diced lemon peel , 1 Tbsp. lemon juice,  1 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom , (optional:3 Tbsp. apricot brandy) for 1 hour or until a thick syrup appears .Stir at times-add a bit of hot water if getting dry. Set aside and cool to room temp.

Make your favorite pie dough. Line the pan and crimp along edges as you would for a traditional pie. Make sure you have enough to make strips for a lattice design 2 times .

Prick bottom with a fork all over, line with some parchment paper and layer beans or pie weights. Bake 5-7 min. Let cool on rack.

Layer in one half of cooled apricots and sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/2 c. sugar, 1 Tbsp. of flour and a few gratings of nutmeg ;lay the strips of pie dough and stick them to the side-careful to not put holes in the lined dough. Add remaining fruit across pan evenly; sprinkle again with 1 Tbsp. flour. Lay the strips of remaining pie dough, making sure they adhere to the sides below the crimped edges. Brush all the top with milk; add remaining sugar and some gratings of nutmeg.

Place on a heavy cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes . Check at 40 minutes..if edges getting too browned, crimp some foil over edges so they will not burn. Depending on the oven, baking time may be an extra 15-20  minutes or so. Remove and cool on a rack for at least 2 hours. Serve with home made vanilla ice cream.

NOTE* This may not be a cobbler as most know the definition…it’s what my Mom called it. Deep dish pie,cobbler, whatever one calls it- it is REALLY GOOD! ….And when you get up in the morning and you are a kid…you get your cereal bowl, get the pan out of the refrigerator, dig out a big slab of the cobbler and put it in the bowl. Add milk and …well; if you are 10 years old , there isn’t anything better-at least at that moment!

…to be continued with Vol. 2b

“The popular advice that I continue to  hear is to downsize , eliminate things, and simplify my life……the problem I see with that is I’m pretty sure that I’d quickly lose interest .”      Ross Pullen    2012




  1. Julia Kudla /

    You just reminded me of one of the things I miss most about living in Idaho. Summer days, driving out into the middle of a nowhere to a tiny town like Bone, spending hours fishing. Delicious little trout and thousands of mosquitos! No sounds but the wind and water.

    • That’s just what triggered this series… and I may put it 3 or 4 parts. Back in our memories when we would just get together with important people…or maybe just one person, and have an adventure outside. Enjoy some great simple food . Making memories that we can cherish , chuckle about, or tell someone a good story.

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