It all starts, as things do, with one small misstep, a minor oversight that unwinds balefully into tragic chorus.
Even though he saw that the husk ends were dry, Mr. Henry bought some corn. He knew Mrs. Henry would feel compelled yet again to deliver her lecture, “How many times must I explain to you about fresh ears of corn?,” a well-argued and convincing thesis. But he had been beating the Manhattan streets all day. His feet were growing corns of their own, and back home his noble hound Pepper needed walking.
Oh where is fresh corn to be found? Where are the sweet ears of yesteryear? To buy fresh corn must he always take subways to foreign climes? Must he buy exclusively from farmstands in parking lots?
How many food miles these dry cobs had traveled Mr. Henry shudders to think. What became clear to him, however, was that he needed a quick-witted solution.
Cornbread! He hadn’t indulged in a good corn bread since winter. This week’s cold snap made cornbread a practical choice. Yes, all would be alright. Then, his nimble imagination galloping ahead of his vaunted sense of practicality, he smelled the cornbread together with its empyreal helpmeet – pulled pork with barbecue sauce. He imagined brioche buns oozing with sloppy joe. He imagined crunchy, vinegary cole slaw. His tongue became heavy with desire to pronounce each menu selection with a southern accent.
His bona fides as arbiter of fine food notwithstanding, Mr. Henry had never before slow-cooked a great slab of pork. Every recipe he found called for baking 10 hours at a tepid 225º. Could there be a shorter route?
Undeterred by inexperience, Mr. Henry bought five pounds of blade roast, slapped it on the kitchen counter, and massaged it with his own concoction of dry spices: brown sugar (lots and lots), cumin (a good heaping), cayenne (a smidge), paprika, (a smidge more), dry mustard, a big pinch of herbs de provence (why not?), ground black pepper, mixed whole peppercorns, whole cloves, and kosher salt (has nice granulation). No time for marinating or resting.
After searing the meat in canola oil, he covered it in two coarsely chopped onions, two whole cloves of garlic, and two cups of water. With the lid on, the dutch oven went into the stove at 350º for seven hours, all the time there was. The house smelled like Jimmy’s pit Bar-B-Q back home. Poor Pepper was pacing and licking her chops all day.
Mr. Henry is not ashamed to reveal the trepidation he felt as he lifted the lid, hoping against hope he wouldn’t burn his fingers once again on its handle. The liquid was gone! The browned meat sat nobly proud of a viscose, inky mystery. Four dinner guests were set to arrive. Mr. Henry placed the lid back on top and prayed for juices to settle.
Sensing that hesitation at this crucial moment would be fatal, Mrs. Henry rose from her yoga mat and stepped into the breach. With the assurance of a battlefield colonel she added more mayonnaise (!) to the cole slaw and punched up its brightness with a sprinkling more salt and a dash of sugared white sushi vinegar. To the mysterious dark pot liquor she added apple cider vinegar and ketchup.
We few, we happy few! We pulled and we slathered. We went WAY down South. Because others were too busy eating, holding a glass of cold Vouvray Mr. Henry toasted his signal victory against overwhelming odds.
Borrowing the idea from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Mrs. Henry tossed kale in olive oil and veggie salt, and baked it at 350º for about 12 minutes. All its bitterness disappeared. The result was an intensely green, somewhat shriveled, crunchy leaf. “Hey kids,” Mr. Henry slyly asked, “who wants green potato chips?” They couldn’t get enough of them.
Fresh pineapple, a deliciously stinky aged hard cheese called toma persa, and Lorna’s beautiful pastries ended the feast.