*Found this essay hiding out in the PotP archives, covered in 2 inches of digital cyber dust. Never published. A story about a little cook-out from last spring, some good food, and some people there we met along the way. Enjoy.
It was a soft spring afternoon, under quiet gray skies, with a light drizzle dappling over the land and over the pond. I was out manning the pit of course, doing what pit keepers do, sizzling up a pan of bacon over the old patio stove. The tweety birds were out too, in full chorus I noted, despite the drizzle. And the Mallards milled poignantly in the pond, as always, indifferent to the inclement of weather. Anyways, we were having a bandy of people over today, to fellowship and commune over several pounds of perfectly grilled ground beef. Hamburgers that is. Burgers large enough to warrant their own zip code Okay, maybe not that big, but even so.
The ground beef was seasoned with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, which was thoroughly worked through all the protein. Massage it in there, people, and get your hands dirty! Divvy out into patties accordingly. I thought about stuffing a couple globs of pepper jack cheese into the center of the patties, for to sport a Juicy Lucy, but I felt lazy at the pit today. So I didn’t. A pit jockey’s freedom.
You all know how to grill a hamburger. Leastwise I hope you do. So we shall not indulge in the how-to’s of the game. I will mention to you however, the glories of a gently curling pillar of hickory smoke, wafting up out of the pit damper. Likewise, the wonderful, earthen aromas of grass and dirt on a wet day, and how it mingles so saintly with the pungency of lightly charred beef. And the Canadian geese yonder, afloat on placid waters, honking it up like the brass section of the high school band. Can’t say it sounds good, but I’m glad it’s there, I guess.
Among the guests to show up this eve, was a little lady I hadn’t had occasion to meet before. She was quiet most of time, keeping to herself, yet drawing mass attention like all babies do. I felt compelled to build her a hamburger. You know, to welcome her to the planet and all. It was a good one too. And I noticed after a fashion, that it was almost, but not quite, as big as her head. Relatively speaking, that’s a burger! Glory be the day that I meet up with such a plunder, as I have a rather larger than normal cranium as it is, or so I’ve been told. But this here baby, in truth, she was not all that impressed with my bountiful offering. She was no more amused with the hamburger than she was with the 42 inch mounted musky on the wall in the living room. Ah, ignorance is such a blinder.
And so we settled in for food, fellowship, and really big hamburgers patron to the pit. Burgers are at once easy to make, declicious to eat, and always seem to go over well feeding a crowd. They can assemble their own, and thus it becomes personal to them. That’s the magic of burgers. Add a chunk of mesquite wood or hickory to your coals during the cook to really up your game. It will propel your hamburger to the next level of smoky goodness, and all your people will rejoice in turn. Well, all that is except for those who don’t have any teeth yet. But what can you do? Amen.
They were cute once, iffin you didn’t already know it. My beloved tweety birds which dart about the pond-side pit here, happy-go-lucky, flirtatious, and like I say, cute. But this morning as I stepped out on the patio, beverage in hand, I find a gaggle of them floundering fancy in the ash pan residing beneath the old kettle grill. Flopping about there, doing their best wildebeest impressions, antics oft reserved for the dusty plains of Botswana. Their little feathers cloaked in ashen debris, kicking up little gray clouds of it, which scattered in the morning breeze. What a bunch of goof balls, I thunk. Rolling around like pigs in the mud. Like puppies in the grass. Like grown men in the ball pit at the Burger King. They were having a good time at it too, and I nary could convince them otherwise. But then again, I wasn’t trying to.
I’ve long admired blokes, you see, who make the best of things. When your bird bath is as dry and filthy as a Weber ash pan, and you look like a bird who has just endured a volcanic blast, yet you still frolic with great and unbridled enthusiasm, well my hat is off to you little bird. Not conformed by conventional thinking or naysay, but emboldened perhaps, by the cliché cup of lemonade that awaits you – you made the best of things, and you did so with the least of things. You did it with a pile charcoal ash. I guess they were just washing themselves, or something akin. Tweety birdologists could enlighten us, I suppose. But I say if their goal was to get out the other side of this activity cleaner than they began, well, they failed miserably at it. I had me some dirty birds at the pit today. Some very dirty birds indeed.
Anyways, lunch was a trifle cleaner you might say, and probably better tasting too, than tweety birds rolled in ash. We henceforth evicted them of their little health spa, and fired up a chimney of coals. And whilst those coals matured, we sprinkled some of this Cajun Blast Seasoning over two portly patties of 80-20 ground beef. We were burger hungry at the pit today, I cannot deny. But then if you asked us most days what we would fancy, a good hamburger is usually at the top of the list, and rightly so. For they are a rather filling affair of meat and bun. Easy to do. And quick too, if that is how you like to bend. But above all that, burgers are just plain good, and nothing more needs to be said about that.
You all know how to grill a hamburger, so we shan’t prolong here the intricacies of it. A hamburger is personal anyways, as every pit keeper embellishes his or her own unique touch on it. Like a finger print, perhaps, no two burgers are the same. A burger proper is but a reflection of your mood that day. Some days you’re feeling spicy, other days just plain. Some days you’ll hanker for the works, plucking everything and anything out of the refrigerator door. While still other days, you’ll just stick a fork in your burger and eat it like meat Popsicle. It’s all good in Burgerville, and that is precisely what makes them so wonderful.
We tossed some cherry wood into the coals for to smoke there, and brought the burgers to a state of well done, just before of course, toasting the buns. We almost always toast our buns, if but to add that extra texture so lovely in a hamburger. Then melted some medium cheddar cheese as a matter of course, added a slice of tomato from the garden folds, and lastly, and totally fueled by impulse here, squirted a shot of Thousand Island-like salad dressing on the bottom bun. Man!
As I plated up, sunbeams swept across the green lawn. Clouds the shape of pork chops and wiener dogs idled overhead, and a gentle breeze with subtle kisses of autumn mingled through the fluttering tree tops. Tomatoes ripening before thine eyes. Bean plants sprawling. Honey bees buzzing. The ninth inning of summer was going strong. And yet another span of moments pit-side, sealed in that smokey vault of memories. Satisfied, my plated spoils in hand, I stepped into the house, sliding the screen door shut behind me. And just then, and rather out the woodwork, three little tweety birds fluttered up on my six, and with a cheerful chirp, lit again into their hallowed ash pile- floundering around there in little gray clouds stretched by the wind. I smiled quietly. What can you do. I had some dirty birds on my hands today, and that’s all there is about it. But they were cute once, I tell you, they really were. Come to think of it, they still are I guess. And burgers are always good. Amen.