August has many childhood memories for me, and all of them are hot. It was the month my mother and I came down on the train from Memphis every year to visit my grandmother in Good Hope. The oil industry has long since chased out the residents, but for many years, about 200 people inhabited the tiny town that owed its existence to the nearby Shell refinery in Norco, and a few other related companies.
It was awhile before air-conditioning saved us, but the townspeople had their August routine down pat. Men were up at five in the morning to prepare for their early shifts, while women not only cooked breakfast but put on their pots of beans, roasts, chicken stew or gumbo that would be done before the heat became unbearable around nine o’clock. As the pots rolled and the rice bubbled, the women cleaned their houses to a polished sheen. Way before noon, you could’ve eaten off their front porches, and inside, the colored flowers in the linoleum floors were sparkling.
I liked to sleep late as a child, but there was none of that. By eight o’clock, the humidity was so high, the sheets stuck to your legs and even the table fans couldn’t keep you cool enough to sleep. Some of the men came home for lunch and the big meal of the day was usually served around noon, with leftovers held for supper. But there was no more cooking, cleaning or work of any kind in the houses at Good Hope after noon. It was too darn hot.
Everyone sat on their porches swinging, fanning, drinking lemonade and chatting with anyone strolling down the street. For several years, my grandmother had a snowball stand in her front yard and I got to help out. No one in Memphis had ever eaten the likes of a Louisiana snowball and I felt superior, eating at least three a day during those wonderful summers. My favorites were spearmint, nectar and coconut. Even now, snowballs are the highlight of my Augusts.
While technology has cooled our homes, offices and automobiles, the dog days of August are still time for the elderly to stay indoors, children and athletes to beware of sunstrokes and outdoor workers to drink plenty of water and use lots of sunscreen.
August is the perfect month to vacation in the mountains or, if budget allows, somewhere like Antartica. But if you’re stuck, you can at least take a break from the stove. The following menu is one designed to use the succulent seafood of summer without ever lighting a fire. The secret? Buy crabs and shrimp already cooked from your favorite seafood store.
This marinated crabs recipe is a takeoff from the famous dish served at Mosca’s. Shrimp salad stands alone, but how much better to stuff it into creamy avocados? I had never heard of this beet salad in Memphis, so I know it is another little Louisiana neighborhood restaurant, and home cook, secret. Because of it, I learned to love beets. And, where the lemonade pie recipe came from, I have no idea. I just know that I have been making it, as well as lemon ice, for years and years in August. For my taste, the month is even too hot for chocolate. Lemon takes over. Along with spearmint, nectar and coconut snowballs.
1 dozen well-seasoned boiled crabs
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
12 cloves garlic, unpeeled and
flattened with the back of a
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves, torn
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
10 turns on a peppermill
1 pint jar good-quality olive salad
Buy crabs freshly boiled from a reputable seafood store. Pull off the backs, scrape off the lungs and everything from the cavity of the crab except the fat. Cut off the eyes. Discard everything but the body, legs and claws. Cut the crab in half with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Cut off the claws. Do not pull them, or the meat will pull out of the body. Leave small legs on. With a nutcracker, crack both segments of each claw but try to leave them intact. With a sharp knife, cut off the small piece of shell that holds the lump crab meat in place. Repeat gently with each crab, placing them in a large bowl.
In a medium bowl, mix well all other ingredients except olive salad. Pour over the crabs and stir very gently to coat all without breaking them up. Tightly seal the top of the bowl with a cover or aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for at least eight hours, or up to 24. Stir gently several times. An hour before serving, add olive salad and again, stir gently. Serve in bowls with some of the liquid and plenty of French bread. Serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as appetizers.
SHRIMP SALAD-STUFFED AVOCADOS
4 ripe avocados
2 pounds boiled shrimp, peeled,
deveined and chopped
6 tablespoons mayonnaise, good-
quality or homemade
4 green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus
some for drizzling
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Slice and peel avocados. Remove seeds. (An easy way to peel is to scoop the avocado out with a serving-size spoon.) Drizzle with a little lemon juice to keep the avocados from turning brown. Mix all other ingredients, including the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and fill the avocado halves, spooning extra over the top. Serves 4 as a luncheon entrée or 8 as a dinner appetizer.
1 large can beets
1 small onion, sliced in rings
2 tablespoons good-quality
Drain beets. Place in small bowl and mix in onion rings. Dot with mayonnaise. Cover tightly and marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Mix slightly to serve. Serve cold. Serves 4 as a sidedish.
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 pint whipped topping such as
1/2 cup dry lemonade mix
1 9-inch ready-made graham
cracker pie crust
Leave ice cream out of the freezer until slightly soft. In a large bowl, mix together the soft ice cream and whipped topping. Stir in the lemonade mix. Spoon into the graham cracker pie crust and freeze for at least four hours before serving. This is a good dessert to make a day ahead; make two for a crowd. Cover with the plastic tops that come with ready-made crusts. One pie serves 6 to 8.