Sibling Assignment # 17 Hottest Day In August

About two years ago I started on a personal book project. I am writing a recipe/memoir book titled Gathering Around the Table: Celebrating a Life of Memories and Recipes. One reason the sibling assignment project was started was for me to get different points of view on events that match with recipes. You can find my siblings' blogs here and here.
The assignment this week: Use August and Orofino three times in a memoir piece.
This is one of my first stories I wrote for the cookbook. We spent time in Orofino, Idaho each summer. Mom grew up there and we would return to visit family and friends,usually in August.

August humidity hung in the early evening air. The thermometer on the side of Auntie Lila’s house registered ninety. One side of the yard provided some relief. It was shaded by an old striped awning.

“Don’t go into the kitchen unless you want to sweat like a pig,” my cousin John announced to anybody that might have been listening. Uncle Ted didn’t seem to hear him. He was preparing for his nightly ritual of checking for water leaks under the house. “Flashlights aren’t working”, he muttered to my dad. Dad handed him newer Eveready batteries. Uncle Bob appeared with two beers and pulled a can opener from his belt. He opened the cool, sweaty cans and handed my dad one can as he settled into the lawn chair in the shade to enjoy his own.
“ It is August and it is hot, but we always visit Orofino this time of year,” Dad laughed as he took a long swig of beer and wiped sweat from his forehead. August and hot often ended up in the same sentence when Dad retold stories about his visits to Orofino.

My brother was preoccupied with a new collection of bumblebees in an old Tang jar. I stopped my search for new and strange beetles. What was going on in the kitchen?

I couldn’t wait any longer. My curiosity got the best of me. I had to check out the cooking in the kitchen. One of Auntie Lila’s famous dinner specials was Swiss Steak. My dad always said two events defined being in “Goofyville”-his name for Orofino- in August. One was wasting the best cut of steak from the Glenwood Market on Swiss Steak. The other was choosing the hottest day in August to prepare that Swiss Steak. Auntie Lila had accomplished both.

Auntie Lila, Mom, and Aunt Ronnie were standing in the kitchen with sweat pouring off their faces. Mom’s glasses were steamed up as she worked near the stove. Aunt Ronnie’s bangs were damp against her forehead. Auntie Lila‘s sleeveless blouse stuck to her back. They seemed unaware that the kitchen was an inferno.

One was frying steak, another was chopping green peppers, and the third in the assembly line was shucking corn. The mixer was sitting on the counter with the Pyrex bowl full of cake batter. In a loud conversation that kept interrupting itself the three were debated favorite variations of the Swiss Steak recipe. Was it better to use round steak or sirloin? Was it home canned tomatoes or store bought? These questions hung in the heavy air of conversation.

After observing this kitchen ritual I had to ask, “Aren’t you hot?”

Laughter filled the kitchen. “Oh Dear, this is nothing. Wait till we put the applesauce cake in the oven and cook the brown sugar frosting,” Auntie Lila yelled over the sound of the outdated electric fan.
“You’re baking a cake?” I heard my Uncle Bob yell from his lawn chair. Is there anything else that could heat up the kitchen more?”
“Watch it Bob..... or we will make you eat in here,” Aunt Ronnie threatened in a teasing tone. He shook his head laughing as he sipped his can of beer. “The picnic table out here under the awning looks just fine. ”
As my Aunt Ronnie turned on the oven, she took a long drag off her cigarette. My mom was filling the pot with water for corn on the cob. I escaped to the cool shade under the awning.

“ Is dinner ready yet?” my dad asked as he drank the last of his Schmidt. “I’d sure like to eat before they deliver the morning paper.”

Recipe for Auntie Lila’s Swiss Steak
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 lbs. round or sirloin steak, one inch thick
2 tablespoons oil
1 8 oz. can tomatoes
½ cup minced onion
¼ cup minced green pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Stir together flour, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle one side of meat with half the flour mixture; pound in. Turn meat and pound in remaining flour mixture. Cut meat into 6 serving pieces.
Heat oil in large skillet; brown meat over medium heat, about 15 minutes. Cover tightly; simmer 1 hour. Add small amount of water if necessary. Mix remaining ingredients; pour over meat. Cover tightly; simmer 30 minutes or until tender.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    I can't tell you how happy I am to find your Auntie Lila's Swiss Steak recipe. I thought she made it up as she went along, sticking with the basics.....steak, tomatoes, onions.

    My siblings both make a darn good version of her Swiss Steak, but I have stayed out of the competition. I have honed my skills in the making of Stroganoff.

    Cousin Lura


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