The allure of a snow day, especially in the Bluegrass where snowfall is fickle and fleeting, doesn’t subside with adulthood. Granted, my childhood experience of substantial snowfall was tempered by the impact the winter wonderland would have on the cattle, and if a late winter snow, the newborn calves. Feeding the cattle became even more challenging with snow drifts camouflaging the farm road, the troughs, and the bitter cold penetrated even the most deftly assembled layers of clothing. But as the youngest child, I was fortunate enough to have older siblings called on for gate-opening duty, and to man the tractor, so I often spent snow days underfoot at the house (many apologies to my mother). Sleigh riding, (usually with a patient and hapless English Cocker on my lap), ensued, and when I finally became too numb to frolic, the warmth of the kitchen beckoned.
Food, I firmly believe, is one of the chief pleasures of life (along with great architecture, gardens, books & other delights I won’t mention). And when one is surrounded by a foot or more of snow, cooking and eating define the rhythms of a good snow day. As I lolled on the couch this morning, marveling at the fact that I wasn’t playing hooky and the University is indeed closed, I stumbled across a marvelous mention of hot browns. Somehow, in the frenzy of the past week, I missed the fact that National Geographic named the hot brown the top dish in the country…or perhaps more correctly, Louisville, KY was named #1 in their top 10 food cities list, thanks to that iconic open-faced sandwich.
Hot browns were a quick supper in our household growing up, but our interpretation bore little resemblance to the sandwiches served in restaurants across the Bluegrass (NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me experienced the hot brown in Lexington a few years ago). Out of Kentucky Kitchens, that venerable tome published in 1949 (with a forward by Duncan Hines!), provided our version of the hot brown, which is much lighter than many, and was happily consumed on a snow day.
A constant on the stove on a snow day was a pot of gently simmering hot chocolate, with the bag of marshmallows nearby (and at eye level. I could fit at least five in my mouth before I would get caught and chastised). Many times the the double boiler was out, ready to make Welsh Rabbit (a recipe from Colonial Williamsburg, that, for the uninitiated, combines beer and cheese in a fantasy-fulfilling fashion). Usually, a large crock held homemade vegetable soup, waiting to be poured into a Dutch oven and be heated up. Accompanying the vegetable soup would be homemade pepper relish (canned at a time when humidity and mosquitoes were the source of complaints, not ice and snow), and grilled cheese sandwiches.
I’m lucky today – I don’t have to be out on the roads. But for all of those that do – and the people working in shifts to keep the roads cleared so that folks can get places – be careful and stay warm. I’m going to go eat now.