Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hickory nuts

I collected hickory nuts today and it reminded me of my Dad.

When my family moved to Lockwood Avenue in Greenville, the property came with two important features: a brick grill and a hickory tree. The brick grill ended up being useless - I was eventually paid to break the bricks and haul it away.

But the other feature - the hickory tree, was important.

Before Dad would grill out, he would send me out to collect hickory nuts for the fire.  There was only one tree, and so collecting was pretty easy.  I would come back with a couple of cupfulls from every foraging session.  Dad would add it to the fire, and the result was perfect, smoky meat.

I the beauty of hindsight, there is probably no better way to engage a pyro kid somewhere other than the firepit than to give him a task specifically designed to keep him a safe distance from the fire.

By the time he is back, the fire has started to die down.  And the real work of grilling can begin.

I have a pet theory, that the skill of carving meat and grilling skips a generation.  I honestly believe that the accomplished grillmaster cannot let a child take the job - a task that he has perfected over the years by trial and error - and destroy a piece of meat.  And by controlling the fire, he effectively removes the knowledge from being passed along to the next generation.

By the time the following generation comes around, the grillmaster seeks to share the knowledge and wisdom of a thousand steaks.  The grandchild then becomes the fire-priest-in-training, eventually supplanting the old generation.

Dad had lots of reasons for keeping his little firebug away from the grill.  But the unintended consequence is that I have no idea what I am doing when the coals get hot.  I re-invent the wheel.  Every.  Single.  Time.

 Nevertheless, the lesson of the hickory continues.  And as long as I am grilling, and re-learning the process, I'll be reading, guessing, scorching, charring, dripping, re-heating, and eating delicious failures and scrumptious successes.  And with each one, when it is available, I will be charring some hickory nuts while I do.  And wondering whether Dad was just sending me on a mission, or whether he really did like the flavor.

I am thinking maybe he did.  And that getting the kid away from the fire was pure lagniappe.

This year, Remi, Gabi and I built a firepit.  We grilled on it, and I explained to Remi that I was just making it up - I had no special knowledge about grilling.  And in the process, he and I both started, once again, to learn how to char meat.  This time, we did it together.

So after the kids left. I found myself with bratwurst on the fire, thinking of what Independence Day really means.  I learned a lot about fire, but did so under the watchful eye of my dad.  Even if he was not sharing his grill with me, he watched his pyro develop.  And start fires of his own.

We don't ever really become independent.  We rely on the knowledge of what went before, and break away, trying to make it better.  Sometimes, we burn the brisket.  Other times, we get it right.

And sometimes, we just get to watch the fire, and marvel at how wonderful the smell of hickory really flavors our lives so perfectly.

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