Grist for the Mill
Before we moved to Greenville, we spent a year in Blacksburg, VA. We knew it was going to be only a year, as the job in Greenville was waiting, but still, as a young family, we tried to make friends. And the best way we knew how to do that was to make dinner.
We invited a couple our age and another new professor up to the farmhouse we were renting just outside of town and made a wildly authentic Mexican meal, from scratch.
It took two days. There were two different kinds of homemade salsa, frijoles de olla, marinated roasted green chilies stuffed with guacamole, and tamales. I’d braised the pork shoulder with dried anchos and coffee, and made the masa with lard, because lard was right. It was a special occasion, and I was showing off. I remember we had to go to a particular country grocery store called Wade’s to find it, and they also sold RC cola in glass bottles by the case.
It was one of those dinners that prepped without a hitch. Everything was beautiful, and because it was also labor frontloaded, ready before guests arrived. We made margaritas, put the baby to bed. We maybe even made a second batch before the doorbell rang.
In retrospect, we did not know our guests well enough for this kind of entertaining.
The new professor ate no carbs. The young couple were local to southwest Virginia, and didn’t care for spicy food, or guacamole, or really much of anything beyond red meat and potatoes and salt. We made more margaritas, watched the new professor scrape the pork away from the perfectly tender masa, and one of us announced the tamales were made with lard.
You could have heard a pin drop.
This was 17 years ago, when this country was deep in its complicated relationship with saturated fat, and long before the call to whole animal eating. We might as well have said we’d been eating paste. If paste, you know, had carbs.
Reading this season’s issue, I found myself thinking of this particular dinner party from several different angles. Of course, the flaky leaf lard Meredith Mizell encountered at Bethel Trails Farm brought it to mind in the first place (“Appalachian Dark Arts,” page 21). But also, the advice of Anna Thomas (“One Feast Fits All,” page 29), that more thoughtful flexibility when we gather friends at our table, particularly new friends, might deflect moments like these in the future.
Mostly, though, I thought of MFK Fisher’s imagined perfect dinner parties (“Past, Present, Future,” page 34), with just the right number of guests, the right weather and music and conversations and plates, and how perfect dinner parties are just that, figments of our imaginations. I can still remember this evening and laugh, and isn’t that best of all?