While living on a church college campus in 1950 my husband, Denny, and I had hidden a bottle of Manischewitz wine in the refrigerator. Why? Because in plain sight it could’ve gotten us in a whole lot of trouble. We wanted to cook a gourmet meal with it, but Denny first had to convince his sister that owning a bottle of wine wasn’t a sin. After all, if Jesus turned water into wine it must be good for something. With that behind us, we scheduled a dinner date for my sister-in-law, Glenna and her husband, Carl. I could hardly wait to shine in the kitchen. The week seemed a month long. Finally, the day had come to arrange the pot roast, potatoes, carrots, and onions in the electric roaster before leaving for church. The meal would be ready when we returned.
When Sunday services had ended, Denny, Carl, Glenna and I zoomed home and straight to the kitchen where we could sin in the privacy of our own apartment. Oh joy; the place smelled wonderful. Denny set the table and reminded our guests that we would enjoy this wine-cooked meal without guilt.
Thirty minutes before mealtime, I set the bottle free from its prison behind the milk and baptized the roast with one cup of Manischewitz, then covered the electric roaster and set the timer for 30 minutes. I performed these simple tasks like they were old hat even though I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. Pretending gave me courage.
Carl said, “What’s happening now?”
I said, “I’m allowing the wine to ‘marry’ the flavors of the meat and vegetables.”
“Marry the food?”
That’s the way chefs talked. I saw it in the movies.
Thirty minutes later Denny sliced chunks of pot roast and dished food onto each plate. Before placing the offerings on the table, he thanked God for our many blessings then spooned the red juice from the bottom of the pan over the meat and vegetables. It stunned the eyes and shocked the mouth, tasting like meat and vegetables with wine poured on top. I assumed that might’ve been a good thing, but not sure. I hoped to convince everyone, even myself, I had prepared a gourmet meal. Glenna chewed, and through a mouthful of potatoes soaked in wine, my sister-in-law said, “Interesting.”
I wanted to hear more than that and said, “Exotic, isn’t it?” The word “exotic” seemed more appropriate than “interesting.”
Denny got up from the table and through tight lips said, “Scuse me,” and disappeared into the bathroom. Carl and Glenna kept eating just enough to be supportive and not enough to get sick. I cleared away food and dishes and sensed things hadn’t gone as planned. I could still save face and said, “Wait’ll you taste dessert.”
“Dessert?” Carl looked panic-stricken.
That’s when I felt we might be in trouble. Denny and I were trying to recreate a gourmet meal we’d had at the Blue Parrot Restaurant in Denver. The dessert we ordered had a French name: Glace avec Sauce Vin. We didn’t really like it and concluded that our taste buds were unsophisticated just as Carl and Glenna’s taste buds were now.
Denny scooped vanilla ice cream into small bowls and I dribbled Manischewitz over each one. Then I christened each serving with a maraschino cherry thinking the extra touch might save the day. The cherry on top was not what got our attention. What had gotten our attention was the curdled ice cream that looked like baby spit-up. Glenna placed a dainty bite on her tongue, held it there for a few seconds and said, “No thanks.”
Denny said, “This isn’t at all like what we ate in Denver.”
I said, “It’s close.”
What a lie. I’d never eaten anything that strange, but I ate it, acting like it tasted yummy and finished every bite. I guess I had something to prove, unsure what that might be.
Carl turned the eating experience in a new direction when he said, “Let’s see what this stuff tastes like straight from the bottle.” Would Carl be the one to save my dinner party?
He poured the wine into little plastic juice glasses, giving each of us about three tablespoons of the scarlet liquid. We took our time sipping it and agreed that it tasted pretty good by itself, so, wine became our dessert. Denny said, “Let’s make a toast” We clunked our plastic glasses together and he added, “Forget cooking with wine. We should’ve done this in the first place.”
Now free of all pretenses, I joined the group slurping Manischewitz and then we enjoyed a second round and got kind of giggly. I said, “We’d better wrap this up before someone knocks on our door and turns us in.” I put the cork in place and returned the rest of the wine to the fridge where it belonged…behind the milk.
The pretty bottle hid in the refrigerator for a few more months. By spring vacation, Carl, Glenna, and I had to leave for a week while traveling the west coast on our choir concert tour. After our concerts, a representative from our college would recruit new students. We had to leave Denny behind, because he was a faculty member and not in the choir. . As our bus pulled away and we waved goodbye to my husband, sadness and worry settled over me. I leaned back in the seat and whispered to Carl, “I forgot that wine is still in our fridge. What if one of the boys upstairs wants to borrow milk.”
Carl said, “Don’t worry. That Mannychevy, or whatever it’s called, won’t be a problem.”
He was so wrong.
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Story and illustration by Betty Auchard