Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy Labor Day! Let's Eat Some Deep Fried Noodles!

I have a friend who is always wondering about her family’s traditions. She speaks of these ‘traditions’ in the italicized words of someone that wants her holidays to sparkle in the memory of her children. Well, who can blame her…don’t we all want that? Funny thing about family traditions – we really have no control over what our family chooses as those most memorable things…

Back in the 1970’s…you remember the ‘70’s – white guy afros, bell bottom pants, people bursting into song in praise of cola drinks as they profess to bringing peace to the entire world? Well, way back in the 1970’s, there was a program called The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.

In my well protected world of Cornfield, Illinois, The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon was a HUGE deal. Here was the opportunity to see that legendary funny man – star of such movies as Who’s Minding the Store and The Nutty Professor, the opportunity to see famous pop singing groups (Bay City Rollers, Lena Zavaroni), old school comics (Rich Little, Jerry Stiller) and mime acts (Shields and Yarnell) perform LIVE. Maybe Cory from Three Dog Night would make a surprise appearance! Maybe the Osmonds would sing! Maybe Ed McMahon would crack Jerry up! Maybe something would break! It was LIVE! And clearly, we were starved for entertainment!

And in the interest of not missing anything we stayed up ALL NIGHT LONG. The opportunity to stay up ALL NIGHT LONG was rare and completely dependent on the whims of Mom and Dad. There was no sneaking downstairs to watch late night TV in our house. My parents had the hearing of the greater wax moth.*

You see, once upon a time, in a land without TIVO, DVR or even VCRs, there was only one chance to catch a show live. And that was at its scheduled time as listed in the TV Guide. (Aaaaaa – TV Guide – AAAaaaaa) You missed a scheduled TV program? Well, you missed it. If you were extremely lucky, you might see it in rerun but chances were you were just out of luck. The opportunity to watch a TV show live – where anything could happen - made people put down the crocheting and checkers, light up a few more lanterns and take notice.

And don’t forget the chance to watch television ALL NIGHT LONG! Way back then, before cable and those 157 channels with nothing on the, TV actually went to black sometime around midnight or one A.M. (Around two on the Weekends.) But, by black I mean grey fuzzy snow, the type which harbors poltergeists and creepy little children. If you were lucky enough to get to stay up to watch the end of Midnight Special on Friday night you got to see the sacred stars and stripes begin to flutter as Rosemary Clooney (of the George Clooney’s) sing God Bless America or some such patriotic song and then the station would give it’s call letters, wish its viewers a pleasant evening and the screen would begin to hum with the snow of empty airways.

Anyway, back then, let's say 1972-77, my best girlfriend and I would get the coveted parental permission to stay up and watch The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. We alternated houses each year. We studied Tiger Beat and Teen magazine for potential guest stars. We planned our food. Usually the food choices were simple, deviled ham and cream cheese spread, olives and popcorn – popped on top of the stove in oil with melted butter poured over the top and served in a special bowl reserved for such a reverent treat.(Remember, this was also long before microwave ovens and Orville Redenbacher.) Beverages included Shasta soda in a wide variety of flavors and probably milk or lemonade. The food was much easier to predict than the talent slated for appearance on the ‘big show’.

One year, however, our food choice made a dramatic turn. I could cook a little – gingerbread for the 4H fair, chocolate chip cookies, eggs ala goldenrod – ala our 8th grade home-ec teacher. But this year, thanks to a recipe in 17 magazine I made Scroodles. Or, more accurately, my Mom helped me and we recreated what would become the consummate Labor Day treat. I am sure that Scroodles were the invention of a frustrated fireman and an empty burn unit. The snack consisted of Rotini noodles, boiled to just before al dente, drained and then deep fried. Once the noodles appeared tan and crisp, they were drained and salted. And WaLa**… Scroodles. A crunchy, salty, deep fried carbohydrate treat.

And, they were a hit. Which stands to reason as they were also a tremendous mess to prepare. If the noodles were not drained enough before frying they would cause a spray of hot oil to fly from the FryBaby. (A fancy, modern deep fryer for the health conscious chef.) Put too many noodles in the oil and they would foam over in a molten lava river of oil which threatened to stain the Olive green carpet that matched the Olive green stove. (Yes, we were classy. We had carpet in the kitchen.)

You knew the snack was dangerous when you cooked it.

We ate Scroodles once a year at Labor Day as sure as Rosemary sang God Bless America at midnight or one AM on Saturdays.

Time passed. Fast forward to the mid-1990s. Staying up late lost its appeal. Blame it on maturity. Blame it on tiny babies. Blame it on VCR’s. Mostly blame it on-call, that extraordinary chance to WORK ALL NIGHT! I no longer stayed up all night voluntarily. In fact, I did everything I could think of to avoid it.

It was about this time, maybe 1993 or 4 that my brother – 10 years my junior – choose to follow his dream and move to New York City. He had a diploma telling everyone that would read it that he had a degree in Jazz performance guitar and he was not afraid to use it. He was staying in the Chelsea Hotel, working odd jobs and wondering when he would get his big break.

Labor Day weekend was upon us and I got the urge to make Scroodles. We had not had these tasty treats in years. My children were entirely too young to eat anything so crunchy and salty. But, I could not deny the desire to deep fry some twisty pasta. I spent an entire grease spattered afternoon boiling and frying noodles. Oil coated the cupboard doors, the counter top, the kitchen floor and my glasses. I had several small burns on my fingers and one significant burn on my left forearm. And, I had four bags of Scroodles. I gave one to my Mom and Dad, one to my sister and I kept one. The fourth bag was packed along with some pumpkin bread and sent to my little brother in the big city.

A week later I got the call. The box had arrived. The doorman held it, commenting on how wonderful it smelled when he handed the paper grocery-bag wrapped parcel to my brother. As independent as my brother was, he was still that kid from that small town in the Cornfield, Illinois. He opened the box and the lobby filled with the earthy smell of cinnamon from the pumpkin bread. He broke a piece of the bread off right there, passing it to the doorman. Then he took the box to his room. Hidden inside, under the bread and the local newspapers and the letter full of family updates and long distance hugs was a plastic bag of Scroodles. We talked about those late nights, family vacations all those silly things that only siblings understand. It seemed that Scroodles were a tradition that had been missing for a very long time.

It’s funny how family traditions happen. Sometimes it is those things that are carried over from people long past and connect us to our heritage – religious, nationality, local. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, your get to start the tradition with a recipe from a teen magazine and TheJerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.

I can feel the salt puffing up my  finger from here.

*(It is a recent discovery that this moth can actually hear bats plotting with one another to eat the moths. And apparently the moths are able to communicate with other moths outside of the bat's hearing frequency. Most likely as a way to rat them out to their bat parents when they try to watch Crypt Keeper at one in the morning.)
**WaLa is the Cornfield, Illinois pronunciation of Voilà. Keep in mind, this is the state where Cairo is pronounced Kay-row, Vienna is pronounced Viy-enna and Pekin was suppose to be Peking.
***Cairo, Vienna and Pekin are actual towns in Illinois. Pronunciation of the names may be influenced by region and are in no way meant to be disrespectful of their much fancier European/Asian/African counterparts. 

For those of you in the USA - Have a Safe and Happy Labor Day!  
For those of you not in the USA - Labor Day is a holiday dedicated to the celebration of the American Worker and is the unofficial end of Summer. 

(This post - in a much rougher form - originally appeared in a writing group cookbook: Pious Kitchen Lady presents Vicious Recipes. Sadly, the original group and the book are no longer around.)

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