You’ve heard that old chestnut before, the one that follows a lonesome tune with the refrain whining, “Summer has come and gone and you wasted it.” Where does the time go? How did school creep up so fast? When did Labor Day start coming so early? Fear not, gentle creatures.
The kids may be bringing armloads of homework and permission slips to the carpool line, but the heat isn’t over yet. The Southern groundhog saw his shadow and guaranteed us at least another six weeks of summer, so enjoy those sweltering temps while you can.
I swear I can’t remember how I dressed in shoulder pads and a helmet this time of year in the seventh and eighth grades. The heat may have contributed to the willful self-termination of my football career in the ninth grade, leading me into the temptations associated with music. It was better for me to watch from the sidelines and enjoy the tailgating than to abuse my small frame on the field. A man’s gotta know his limitations.
With this being Labor Day weekend and the full swing of football setting in, we should look at some recipes that fit the backyard barbecue or the stadium parking lot. Let these find footing anywhere there is a barbecue grill and a Yeti cooler. Don’t forget the cold beer and sangria.
Smoke that Boston butt low and slow. Same goes for the ribs. Sausage, on the other hand, can cure the hunger pangs in minutes. Good thing we have some great local and regional sausages readily available in nearly every market in Mobile.
Let’s start with the most local. Hall’s Sausage is the pride of Mobile County and has been for decades. Not only is the sausage great, the red hots and garlic bologna shine bright. Conecuh is probably the most widely used sausage in our area. The loyal followers keep this one in stores and local restaurant recipes. Most of the time you hear those three syllables “Cuh-Neh-Cuh” in place of the word sausage. Country Pleasing is from just a couple hours away in Mississippi. Try their green onion or pepper jack. There’s even a jalapeño cheddar sausage.
We are at the tail end of corn season here but you can still find plenty of ears in the husk. We grill ours with the husk on, turning regularly until the outside is charred. Usually we serve it with mayonnaise and spices like Mexican street corn, but corn and shrimp salad is one of the chilled Labor Day sides that is also perfect for the tailgate. You can fill Tupperware with diced tomatoes, corn, mayonnaise, green onion and boiled shrimp the day before the event. Fresh corn will have to be boiled prior to chilling with the other ingredients. Don’t be shy about using canned shoepeg corn if you can’t find any ears. Just don’t put blueberries in this one (yes, that’s a thing).
Grilled watermelon is here to stay, or at least for another month. Some of you don’t have an appreciation for the slightly slimy texture the heat produces, but a with a little soy sauce and the right seasoning you can convince a sucker or two you’ve served them a rare grilled tuna.
Salt is definitely a friend of the watermelon. As a kid we always had the shaker handy for those off times you accidentally chose one that wasn’t sweet enough, usually indicating it did not come from neighboring Smith County, where they annually crown a Watermelon Queen. I’ve yet to meet anything sweet enough to dethrone that melon queen, which is why I love serving watermelon with salty feta cheese and fresh mint. Bacon crumbles are optional. Having never touched a flame, it’s an excellent appetizer when the temps are high.
If your party has a southwestern theme, cubed watermelon can be seasoned with chili powder, cumin, cilantro and lime juice. I like this next to the citrus flavor of mojo pork or chicken. Add black beans to that corn salad and make it a dip with tortilla chips, and trade the Conecuh entrée for chorizo.
What better dessert for the tail end (pun intended) of the dog days of summer than a lemon icebox pie? This is an attractive dessert for me because my kids love to cook. When I can keep an 8-year-old away from a hot oven or gas range, I’ll take it. True, this article is becoming as much about cooling off as it is dining, but I also love lemon icebox pie and its sister, Key lime.
The graham cracker crusts at the store are good enough to not make your own. If I’m going through the trouble of making my crust, I’m more likely to use melted butter and crushed vanilla wafers. I’ve seen some Pinterest queens mix in pretzels with the crushed wafers for some saltiness. Others use straight-up shortbread cookies. I’ll remind myself to get some Trefoils the next time the Girl Scouts come knocking.
Once you have your crust of whatever cookie/cracker/pretzel combo you’ve chosen, the rest is simple. Remember you aren’t baking this, so steer clear of any recipes with raw eggs. This is a no-no for pregnant women, the elderly and autoimmune afflicted. Instead of eggs, an 8-ounce package of cream cheese will do the trick. Beat it with a half cup of lemon juice, a half teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon of sugar and some lemon zest for color and extra tartness. Top with whipped cream or whipped topping. Refrigerate for three or four hours.
Whether you’re headed to the parking lot of the big game or the backyard for Labor Day, stay cool, set up that grill away from the crowd and let’s celebrate. Football is here.