Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My hotdog has a first name, it's S-M-I-T-H

I'll be perfectly frank (please forgive the pun); I don't want to know how hotdogs are made. I know the jokes, and I choose to believe they are urban legends and hyperbole. Worse than that, I know some of the fact and I choose to believe that hotdogs are spontaneous objects, not creations, with no genesis. Magic wands are surely involved. I can only hope this subject will not again be broached in this post.

However. When it comes to hotdogs, the wiener for me is a Smith's Natural Casing, grilled until the natural casing splits and a slight char gilds the hotdog. Biting into it and hearing that snap of the "natural casing," mmmh, there's nothing better. Until you stop to ponder what the natural casing is. And have to plug your ears and say "lalalalalalalala!!!" and go to your happy place.

People in Erie get a bit dogmatic (sorry again) about their Smith's hotdogs, with "natural casing" vs "skinless" debate carrying on in friendly but firm tones. Local restaurants proudly announce that they serve only Smith's, and who can blame them? I don't know how far outside of Erie you can still get Smith's hotdogs, but it's de rigueur at cookouts and picnics in these parts.

When I grew up, I didn't really eat Smith's. Which is strange, if you think about it, because I live five minutes from the hospital I was born in and am a "born and raised" Erieite. My parents, however, moved here from Pittsburgh and so presumably didn't drink the Smith's kool-aide and become followers from toddlerhood. My mom bought what was on sale, or what she liked, or what we liked, but I know it wasn't usually Smith's. I don't remember when I started to feel strongly about it myself, but I'm pretty sure I was an adult living on my own. I still don't mind the other hotdogs (not at all, really) but there's something very summery about the snap of a Smith's.

This year we grilled hotdogs and corn for the first hot day of the year, and it seemed to hint at better days to come. It has taken very little time for the weather to return to more seasonable temperatures (in the 50's as opposed to the 80's), but soon enough turning on our oven will be but a distant memory and we will cook almost exclusively on our propane grill on the back deck. I like seasonally cooking, making hearty cold weather casseroles and breezy hot weather salads, using what's in season and, when I can, what's local. It's ethically responsible, plus a good way to eat fresh, tasty food.

On a completely unrelated note, NPR today did a story where they gave chefs $10 and instructed them to create a simple, quick meal for four. Sounds like it's to be part one of several. They gave this challenge to Ming Tsai and he made chicken and corn stir fry over spinach salad with lemon. The idea is that the fried rice will wilt the spinach slightly, and that the whole thing experiments with different textures and temperatures. It's an interesting challenge... Darling Husband and I might take it on when Chopped gets bored. Considering the economic climate, it's maybe not a bad idea to practice creative economizing. Hmmm, if only I could get my victory garden in the ground before June...


  1. When I was a kid I used to help my grandparents butcher hogs every fall. (OK, I remember it as helping. I don't know how they would have characterized it.) I found it so amazing that almost every part of the pig was used, even the intestines. When my cousins told me where natural casings came from, I didn't believe them. It took watching my grandmother scrape them clean for me to believe it. But, seeing how thorough she was erased any qualms I had. All that was left was just the very outer membrane. Who would want to eat petro-chemical plastic casings, anyway.

  2. Amen. It's like non-dairy creamer. What on earth is that stuff?

    I read Anthony Bordain's book "A Cook's Tour," where he travels the world eating local, cool food and drinking entirely too much. The chapter on Portugual had a pig butchering scene, and he noted the same thing--that everything is used, nothing is wasted, and also the thoroughness of the cleaning. I think, if we're going to eat the animal, we should be respectful and not waste it. So I like the idea of using almost the whole hog... I don't like the idea of eating it, but that's just my own personal hangup.

    When they were done, Lance, did they inflate the bladder and use it as a ball to kick around? They do in Portugual...

  3. Goodness, no, MF. The Pennsylvania Dutch would never take time away from work to kick a ball around. "What's the good of it?"

  4. Ah, but I've heard it said, "When you have money enough for two loaves of bread, buy one loaf of bread and a bunch of flowers because the soul needs nourishment, too."