I just read an article in Global Rhythm (May ’07) about German lebkuchen, a kind of spice cake dating back to the 18th century. According to the article, one company keeps their recipes in a safe and changes the combination daily. Those are pretty precious recipes.
As any of my readers can see, I’m not a fan of keeping recipes secret. This past weekend, I participated in a foodie event, hoping to get some new recipes. Just my luck — the one I want is a secret recipe.
The event was the 21st annual Puget Sound Cruising Club Circumlocution of Bainbridge Island. It’s a very unusual sailboat race, with three awards.
Not first, second, and third. As a matter of fact, no award goes to first place. Nobody even pays attention to the boat that crosses the finish line first, except to avoid hitting them in the rush to take second place.
That’s because the boat that crosses the line second is considered the winner and gets their name on a brass plaque. The only reason anyone bothers to cross first is because they’re ineligible if they won in the past few years.
[Photo: Osprey and Panta Rhei didn’t win, although Osprey crossed the finish line first.]
The joke is based on the fact that in 1851, watching the America’s Cup, Queen Victoria once asked, “Who was second?” The famous answer was, “There is no second, Your Majesty.”
Another award is given for perseverance, which is a story in itself. You have to suffer greatly to get that award, like leaving the dock at 8 am and arriving 13 hours later after all the food is gone.
And the food is the real reason to participate. Because the most important award is the one for Best Horror d’Hoover, which is how some people pronounce “hors d’oeuvre.” Most of us just say, “appetizer.”
Every year, after the sailing race, we create a giant raft-up. That’s where a few boats drop anchors, and then the rest of the boats tie onto them, making a floating party. We all rush to our respective galleys and try to out-do each other creating the most amazing Horror d’Hoover.
Like the race, there’s no handicap system. Some galleys have microwaves, convection ovens, freezers, refrigerators, and blenders. Others have a sink and a stove. Some don’t even have the stove.
This year, at 1700 hours, the eating commenced aboard Ponderosa, a large Valiant near the center of the raft. Carefully balancing their offerings — one hand for the ship and one for your horror — crew came from all the other boats and laid them on the deck, and we sampled each one.
There were beautiful dishes that tasted plain and plain dishes that tasted beautiful. There were hot dips and cold dips, meaty offerings and vegetarian ones. There was a lot of shrimp, in dips and spreads and balls. There was a gorgeous smoked-salmon pizza with capers, some of which rolled merrily off my plate, onto the deck, and plopped into the water. I hope fish like capers.
We circled the deck as though we were playing musical chairs, tasting as we went. Some folks went around three or four times, narrowing down the field of favorites. At the end, we each cast a vote for one favorite appetizer.
The grand winner (drumroll, please) was Nora, who had prepared sweet-and-sour meatballs. Nora says she never wins anything, but now I don’t believe her. She was on the boat that took second, too.
The frustrating thing about the meatballs was, she refused to give out the recipe. I was right there, on the boat, when she pulled the Rubbermaid container with the magic winning meatballs out of the icebox. I was right there when she reheated and taste-tested them, adding a pinch more chili powder to balance the sweetness. At the time, she made excuses for her “lame recipe,” saying, “This is going to be our dinner, so I wanted to make sure there was something with ‘substenance’ to it.”
But when I ask what else was in there, Nora just clams up, and shrugs. The meatballs and the sauce are a family secret, kept locked in a safe. She’ll pass them down to her children someday, so they can take awards at Horrors d’Hoovers contests.
Sadly, I didn’t even take a picture of the award-winning meatballs. But I did get a great photo of the Commodore and the proud winning chef, the one with the secret recipe.
So now I have to put out a request to my readers: Does anyone have a killer sweet-and-sour meatball recipe? It may take me a few years, but maybe someday I can replicate Nora’s award-winning meatballs.
And then I’ll take them to the Horror d’Hoover contest, and I’ll finally get my name on the plaque with the crossed forks. In my dreams.
Check back later, and I’ll see if I can capture some of the other recipes. They were all yummy, even if they didn’t win. Here are some more photos of the beautiful entrees:
My own submission was pretty, but couldn’t hold a candle to the meatballs: Coconut shrimp balls on top of sliced palm hearts, below.