The summer I turned 10, I signed up for 4-H Cooking with my best friend and blood sister, Connie. Mrs. T, my friend Annette’s mom was our leader. She could make all kinds of delicious stuff from the Old Country, same as my Grandma Z. She never taught us that stuff, ’cause she just knew it in her head with nothing written down. I watched her make pierogies: squares of dough with potatoes or sauerkraut or sweet plums, some kind of cheese that looked like cottage cheese, but was something else way better tasting. Mrs. T’s round face got beet-red as she plinked the pierogies gently into the steaming kettle. She looked the happiest like that: dark hair plastered around her round flushed face, scooping the cooked pierogies out with a slotted spoon and sprinkling the sweet ones with powdered sugar. 4-Hers had to make stuff from a recipe.
The first things Mrs. T taught us was Boston Coolers and Black Cows. Me and Connie already knew how to make lots of stuff on account of us both being part of the Big Kids in our families, so it seemed like 4-H Cooking was gonna be a breeze. For somebody who never did anything in the kitchen, Black Cows and Boston coolers helped her learn how to measure and mix, ’cause that’s all you do with those two things: take some ice cream and some pop and mix them up and pour them in a glass. Mrs. T taught us how to measure exactly with a liquid measure cup and get right down level with the markings, so the measurement was exact, and pack the ice cream in all around, so no air gaps were in there. Connie and I already knew all that measuring was overkill for Boston Coolers or Black Cows, ’cause we made floats before, which was just about the same thing, without all the mixing, and all we did was plop the ice cream in a glass of pop. Only with a Boston Cooler we had to use Vernor’s and with a Black Cow, we had to use Root Beer. That what makes those two drinks special as all get out. Connie and I giggled behind our hands at each other and tried to screw on our serious faces for Mrs. T, so she wouldn’t feel bad about teaching us a bunch of nonsense stuff.
Anyways, when I showed Mom what I learned, she told me the story about how Vernor’s was born. She said when she was a kid, the Vernor’s place was right across the street from Kewpee’s. She and Uncle Gene and Uncle Ken got Vernor’s fresh from the barrel, ’cause it was aged in wood. The bubbles popped up in their nose so strong it sometimes made them sneeze and cough and they had to wait for it to die down before they could drink it.
“Waiting was the worse thing,” she said. “Sometimes we got impatient, and tried to sip it too soon, and ker-chew.” Mom patted her chest and wrinkled her nose all around just like she had Vernor’s bubbles tickling her right that very minute. “We learned how to wait and be patient.”
Just watching her tell that story made me kinda see what she might be like as a little girl. Back then, Vernor’s burned a little from all the ginger in it. I guess they started thinking more about kids after that, or maybe Mom forgot a little because she was a kid back in the olden days, which was a long, long time ago. For me Vernor’s came in bottles, not barrels, even though the label still said ‘aged in wood’, and labels tell the truth. The place she went to was long-gone by the time she and Dad took me for my first Kewpee burger, but Kewpee still used Vernor’s in their Boston Coolers, so the smell of ginger came right out the door and filled up my nose mixing in with the smell of green olives and grease and onions. That sounds like a horrible combination, but sometimes the worst sounding things turn out to taste the best; kinda like pierogies.
Of course Vernor’s was good for other stuff too, like calming the stomach down after throwing up, or hot for soothing a sore throat. But that’s no fun to think about. I’d rather think about a Boston Cooler and a Kewpee burger any day of the week, which was mostly what I did: think about it ’cause we hardly ever had any kind of pop in the house unless somebody was sick. Come to think of it, that’s the up-side of somebody else getting sick. Vernor’s. The down-side, I was probably getting sick pretty soon, or still on the recovery list, ’cause once one kid was sick, everybody got sick.
It’s funny how many summer memories are linked to food. Summertime comes and I think of 4-H, Connie, Annette, and Mrs. T. I never did learn to make pierogies. Still, Mrs. T and Grandma Z inspired me to trust that I can cook with my heart, and Mom gave me the kitchen to experiment in. I love it when one of my children calls and asks me how I make one of their favorite dishes and all I can say is, throw all these ingredients in a bowl, mix it up, and cook it. Better yet, come on over and I’ll show you. That’s the best way to get the love in.