things are about to get juicy…

Happy Labor Day from Iowa! I’m writing from my parents’ kitchen table in the little house in the big woods, hoping that all you readers are having as relaxing and as golden a holiday weekend as I.

I’ve written before about how much I love a good title, and today I got to thinking about the title of a fantastic book of short stories by Malie Meloy, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. As a little kid I dreaded Labor Day because it signaled the end of summer, but now, as a quasi-grown up, I’ve come to love the holiday for the way that it lets us have it both ways. What could be better than watching my Iowa Hawkeye football team in their season opener and my St. Louis Cardinals chasing a Wild Card berth in the same day? Than reveling in the late summer’s bounty at the Des Moines Farmers’ Market  in the morning and back-to-school shopping in the afternoon? I don’t want summer to be over, but I can’t wait for fall and both ways is the only way I want it.

During my weekend at home I got to participate in my mom’s late summer ritual of canning tomatoes. Preserving whole tomatoes and tomato juice, making jam, and freezing sweet corn was such a regular activity in Mom’s and Grandma Kay’s kitchens that I didn’t always realize how special and unique these skills. I’m still an apprentice in all of these (though I probably have journeywoman status in pickling) and I jump at the chance to learn whatever I can from these masters of kitchen preservation.

I’m already scheming the perfect use for the 6 quarts of the best tomato juice in the world that I brought back to Chicago. In my opinion, a Bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment for a late season baseball game or an NFL season opener or a random Sunday brunch on the back porch. I’m a late comer to the Bloody Mary party- I got used to seeing the drinks at all my favorite brunch spots around  and could never bring myself to shell out the cash for a cocktail at breakfast- but now that I’ve tasted Bloody Mary with homemade tomato juice, I think any commercial one will taste subpar. This recipe is a work in progress, but as long as Mom keeps me in the tomato juice and as long as I have one foot in summer and the other in fall, I’ll keep working on perfecting it.

Best Bloody Marys

(adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)

3 large stalks celery from the heart, with leaves, plus more for garnish

36 oz tomato juice

2 t prepared horseradish

1 t grated onion

1 lemon, juiced

1 t Worcestershire sauce

1/2 t Kosher salt (more to taste)

12 dashes hot sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 c vodka

Cut the celery (leaves included) into large dice and process in a food processor until finely minced. In a large pitcher, combine all other ingredients except vodka. With the food processor running, pour 1/4 of the tomato juice mixture through the feed tube. Pour the contents of the food processor back into the pitcher with the rest of the tomato juice mixture and chill. Add vodka. Serve in tall glasses over ice with celery, pickles, and/or olives for garnish.

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