I am not becoming a food blogger

In recent years making a large portion of spaghetti and sauce has been something like a tradition.  Or is it becoming a ritual?  When one does something alone it is difficult to think of it as a tradition.  Solitary events — repeated for the sake of peace and place –seem more ritual than tradition.  Throw in a family — or even a dog — and perhaps you have a tradition.  At least until the dog dies and the family moves on.

It really isn't that bad...

It really isn’t that bad…

But let’s get back to my meaty tradition.

After the season changes and cold nights are more common than otherwise, I like to make a giant pot of what I call “Lake Spaghetti” and this year I had forgotten about this tradition until I went into a little grocery downtown and saw a can of Hunt’s Spaghetti Sauce on a shelf lonesomely waiting for a frugal shopper.

The grocery is now called Groceries on Harmon and, while I don’t really live near the place, I like to stop in a pick up something to support the place, especially since Lund’s opened one of their full-scale groceries a block away.  Usually I pick up something that I know will be safe in the trunk for a while, like canned soup or hash.  The spaghetti sauce was just the thing.  It reminded me of my early autumn tradition and cost only $2.00.

When I was a boy and we were at the lake in northwest Wisconsin for the week of Labor Day with some of the cousins and, if my memory is correct, the adults seemed unprepared for dinner.  This would have been highly unusual so I am guessing a last minute change in plans caused what I sensed was a minor panic.  This was a family that didn’t hesitate to bake a cake for dessert, even at the cabin.  So if 5:00 rolled around without a plan I’m guessing things got a little tense.

But not for long.  Someone went to a small grocery down the highway and returned with several cans of spaghetti sauce, ground beef, pasta, and other things in backs and bottles.  As soon as something was out of the bag it was being turned into dinner.

Someone was browning the ground beef with onions.  I like to think there was garlic there, too, but I’m not sure if something as exotic as garlic would have been in a little lakeland grocery at summer’s end.

If my mother was involved bell peppers probably got into the mix.  I’m not sure what was wrong with that woman back in the day, but everything we ate seemed to include bell peppers as an ingredient.  As kids we didn’t really hate bell peppers, we just knew when enough was enough.  I swear…I think she even tried mixing them with mashed potatoes once.

Lake Spaghetti

Lake Spaghetti

My spaghetti sauce DOES NOT include bell peppers.

So we have ground beef browning and when that is done it gets stirred in with several cans of spaghetti sauce while each adult took turns seasoning to taste with whatever might have been in the cupboard.  Salt and pepper probably.  While this is going on a couple large kettles of boiling water get the pasta going.  I don’t need to tell you that we had a jar of that pre-grated parmesan cheese, do I?  Of course that was part of the meal.  Back then something involving pasta and tomato sauce wasn’t spaghetti without it.

Imagine now a cabin filled with steam scented of beef, tomatoes, and spice.  Not good enough.  My aunt started toasting bread and set us to the task of buttering it.  In surprisingly short order, a loaf or two of bread was toasted and put in a cake pan and stored in the oven until all was ready.

This was a cool evening.  Summers didn’t linger as long into the fall season like they do today.  I’m sure we were all in jeans and sweatshirts, maybe even one or two wearing a hat.  When dinner was ready everyone got a plate or bowl and filled it with pasta, sauce, and a slice or two of bread and took it out to one of the large picnic tables at the cabin.  I often think about how special that dinner felt.  Outside on a very cool early autumn night, the sun setting, and steam rising in clouds from a dozen or so plates.

We likely were planing on ending our vacation with a fish fry that night, by the way, and determined that the week’s catch wasn’t going to feed two hungry families.  While I am sure there was much disappointment, I’m not sure that I have really cared much about a fish fry ever since.  Who needs fish when you Hunt’s is on your grocer’s shelf!  (It’s especially good in the woods, by the way.)

Here is a picture of this year’s Lake Spaghetti.  The rules are simple.  You start with a can of Hunt’s, a pound of ground beef, an onion, and some garlic.  Then you use anything want to use found in the kitchen cupboard.  Usually a lot of salt and pepper.  I was lucky this year.  I found some Italian seasoning and ground garlic.  I also poured a cup of red wine into the sauce toward the end.  It gave my sauce an odd, but very good, woodsy flavor, not unlike a barbecue.

And to finish the experience, play a radio.  No television.  (Never!)  Also note the stamped steel fork.  Cafeteria style.  That’s the sort of fork you would have at the lake so you should use one of those.  If you have guests you must mismatch silver and plates and things.  Pop — ideally orange or grape soda — is taken directly from the bottle unless you’re not yet in school.  Then you get a Dixie cup.

Some competing recipes can be found below, including at least one that includes bell peppers.



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