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Stirring up memories


The All-Day Christmas Dinner
December 15, 2005

Christmas, 1951—fifty three years ago.  A long time ago?  Yes, but many folks   remember it well; remember it like it was yesterday.

            On Broadway, the lovely ingénue Audrey Hepburn made her stage debut in Gigi.   Guys and Dolls had feet tapping.  And Ethel Merman was wowing them in Call Me Madam.

              In New York City and Little Rock, in Los Angeles and Bainbridge, we listened to Arthur Godfrey singing “Slow Poke,” or Rosemary Clooney asking us to “Be My Life’s Companion.” 

            There was more than singing going on in Bainbridge that Christmas season.  In basketball, the “undefeated girls’ team of West Bainbridge charged to victory over the Faceville lassies 51-23.”  The boys didn’t do so well.  In a “nip and tuck round with the Faceville five,” they lost by 38-34.  Faceville made their last goal in the final two seconds.

             Shoppers heading downtown could pick up a cowboy hat for the young buckaroo on the list.  That would set them back a dollar ninety-eight.  An elegant robe for Mom was going for $12.95 at Grollman’s.  A dress shirt for dad?  About three bucks, and a dollar would buy that ubiquitous Christmas tie.

            Some folks were already looking to the New Year. The Chamber of Commerce announced the annual banquet on January 18, 1952 would be held in the dining hall of Southern Airways on the grounds of the old Bainbridge Army Air Base. 

            And we all listened to the radio, listening for more than Mr. Godfrey or Miss Clooney—we listened for war news, we listened for the reports from cold, snowy and desolate Korea—where Americans were fighting.

            Perhaps the ears mostly closely held to the radios were those of the young men arriving at Southern Airways.  They’d come here from all over the country to train to be pilots. 

            One such young man was Glenn Gunsallis.  Fresh from Penn State University, Glenn arrived in Bainbridge in mid November awaiting the training class that was to start in early January.  He found friends in Alabama to visit for Thanksgiving, but like many of the fellows he was looking forward to a lonely Christmas Day.  Maybe no more company than that radio and Rosemary Clooney.

            But he didn’t count on Michael and Mary Perrone.  Michael, also at the school for training, was a bit older than Glen and married.  The Perrones lived in a long set of apartments called Taylor Homes set aside for married couples.  They had two little children and lots of love. Knowing how lonely the holiday might be, Michael invited Glenn and two other trainees—Wayne Whatley from Texas and Del Picher fresh from Arizona—to come over for Christmas Day.  If they would bring the beer, then Mary and Michael were good for the food.

            Today, Glenn remembers that as one of the best meals he’s ever enjoyed.  It lasted all day.  The guests arrived about noon and Mary brought out the first dish.  They gobbled it up.  Then Mary brought out the second.  They gobbled it up.  Then Mary brought out the third—and the fourth, and the fifth.   She kept going until it was evening and the lads could eat no more.

            One day, a few weeks ago Glenn, who is the Regional Library Treasurer drove with Library Chairman Donna McGlincy and me to a meeting in Colquitt.  As we passed some lonely, abandoned buildings along the highway, Glenn broke into the conversation. 

            “See those buildings; they were called Taylor Homes…”  Then he told us the story of Christmas of 1951 and his kind hosts.

            One dish lingers in Glenn’s memory.  He says he’s never had it again, but he can still remember the delicious beef roll Mary offered on that long day.  He gave a try a recalling its name , and I gave a try at spelling it.  Glenn challenged us to find a recipe.

            Just a few days later, Donna succeeded.  She gleaned this from one of her recipe books.

Involtini di Bresaola

3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

3 tablespoons chopped arugula, plus some whole leaves for garnish

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

24 paper-thin slices bresaola

            Combine the cheeses, chopped arugula, garlic and lemon zest.  Mix well. 

            Lay a bresaola slice on a work surface.  Dip a spoon into cold water, then scoop out 1 1/2 teaspoon of cheese mixture and place in the center of the meat slice.  Starting at one end, roll up the slice and place it seam side down on the platter.  Repeat with the remaining bresaola and filling.  Arrange on a platter and garnish with whole arugula leaves.  Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

            Glenn says it sound like it.  But there is a problem.  The problem is the bresaola.  Bresaola is made from raw beef that has been salted and naturally aged. The meat, which is eaten raw, has a delicate flavor; it is also very hard to find, since all that is available in this country is imported.  If you, like me, are determined to try the recipe, you can find the delicacy at La Laterna, an Italian food market on Capitol Circle in Tallahassee.

            I did consult one of Bainbridge’s outstanding Italian cooks and my good food standby Lynda Todaro.  When I told the story, Lynda suggested this recipe from her repertoire. It’s a similar dish, but uses readily available round steak.

Involtini alla Todaro

(Sicilian skewered meat rolls)

3 pounds thinly sliced top round

1/2 cup chopped green onions (white parts only)

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1 peeled garlic clove

2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese

2 or 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

            If the meat is not extremely thinly cut, pound it with the side of a saucer.  Cut meat slices into small pieces—about 2 or 3 inches across.

            Sauté the onions, mushrooms and garlic clove in a small amount of olive oil.  Remove the garlic clove and add 2 cups breadcrumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Take one slice meat and wrap it around a small quantity of the crumb mix.  Dip in olive oil and roll in remaining breadcrumbs.  Put on a skewer alternately with a bay leaf and onion wedge.  Cook on a grill or under a broiler.

            Lynda warns, “It cooks quickly.”  So watch it!

            Some recipes replace the mushrooms with currants that have been plumped for five minutes in hot water.

Let me know, Glenn, if this hits the spot.

            If you have memories of Taylor Homes or Southern Airways or  Mike and Mary Perrone please share them with me.       

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network