Oh my God! I’d become my mother-in-law!
I should have known it was coming. Why did I use doilies when I served the guys’ sausage lunch last week? Why in hell’s name had I bought those patchwork shorts at La Pulga? Why had I suddenly started listening to the “Liza with a Z” album?
And it wasn’t just me. Don Day’s friend Pedrito was showing signs as well.
Now I can’t remember any woman ever calling us macho. But I also can’t remember any man ever calling us sissies. We were just what I’d call regular guys.
When we talked about food, we’d talk about manly food. We’d discuss…OK, maybe argue about…whether it was better to salt a ribeye before or after it gets to feel the heat of the coals. We’d talk about how much better a pickerel tasted if you’d lured it to your line. And, only this week, hadn’t we been standing in Apolo XI on Mesones playing guess the parts of the pig that Nicolas was holding up in the carnitas case. What’s more manly than that?
Oh but to what depths we had fallen! Now we were contemplating whether or not there was fenigreek in a bag of pickling spices. We were debating which San Miguel shop would be our best bet to find celery seed. And we were doing this as Pedrito diced onions and Don Day blanched tomatoes.
We were doing something that, up until this time, I was sure only mothers-in-law did. We were making that classic Canadian dish called chili sauce.
I know what you might be saying. Chili sauce? Canadian?
Yes. Chili sauce is just as Canadian as poutine, back bacon, butter tarts and maple syrup. And I’m not talking about that Heinz Chili Sauce that Don Day’s parents poured over pork chops or meatloaf. I’m talking about a very distinctive relish that is the traditional accompaniment to another very distinctive Canadian dish, tourtiere.
Don Day and Pedrito were making chili sauce because Don Day’s Wife was making tourtiere. And tourtiere without chili sauce is like a wiener that’s not decorated with a thin yellow stripe of mustard.
Well Don Day’s Wife wasn’t exactly making tourtiere. Tourtiere is a savory meat pie but Don Day’s Wife doesn’t do crusts (or crossword puzzles) so Don Day’s Wife was making a tourtiere sausage. In fact, she was making about eight and a half pounds of it.
How do you turn a pie into a sausage? You simply take all of the ingredients that you’d put in the pie and put them into some nice, natural casings. Or at least you’d get La Nueva Aurora, our favorite butcher in San Miguel, to put them in the nice, natural casings.
There was a very good reason to be making this sausage? Canada Day was rapidly approaching. And in case you don’t have a maple leaf tattooed there or anywhere else on your anatomy, I will tell you that Canada Day is July 1. When Don Day was still in long pants (he tends to wear mostly knee pants these days) it was called Dominion Day but as most people (including Canadians) didn’t know exactly what a Dominion was (one survey suggested supermarket was the number one answer), we changed it.
You may know that Canada’s prime minister was here earlier this year for a little get-together with Mexico’s president and you may think that the meeting was about climate change, immigration and free trade. It wasn’t. They were discussing what they were going to wear on Canada Day.
“Enrique, you Latin guys look so much better in red.”
OK, back to the sauce…something Don Day usually only says when he’s walking over to the bar to pour another Scotch.
Pedrito and Don Day were originally going to email our mothers-in-law for the chili sauce recipe and, luckily…or is that unluckily, we’ve had quite a number of mothers-in-law to choose from, but suddenly we did one of those screwed up face, what were we thinking stares at each other. We decided instead to make Don Day’s very best favorite chili sauce which comes from his friend Dawn Napier who is no one’s mother-in-law but only because her daughters keep forgetting to get married.
Dawn’s chili sauce is officially called Napier and Clark’s Chili Sauce and is so old it may be named after Meriwether Clark (or maybe it was Merriwether Lewis?). Dawn says it has been in her family for over 100 years which is about as long as Don Day would like to be in his family. And about the only change to the recipe is measuring things in pounds rather than 6.5 quart baskets. Plus you’ll not see any metric measurements in the recipe (for the same reason that most Canadians still don’t speak French).
DAWN’S CHILI SAUCE. THE INGREDIENTS.
8.5 lb. ripe tomatoes
2.5 lb. cooking onions
1/2 cup pickling salt
4 stalks celery
2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
2 small, hot red peppers (we chose habaneros)
1 green pepper
3 cups white vinegar
2 tbsp. mixed pickling spices in cheesecloth
2 tsp celery seed
When we first got the email from Dawn, Pedrito was in Toronto and Don Day was in San Miguel de Allende so it was decided Pedrito would bring the pickling spices down.
Don Day had thoughts of Arlo Guthrie singing “Coming Into Los Angeles”.
“So what do you have in the bag, Canadiense? And don’t tell me they’re for pickling, I know when herbs are for smoking.”
But Pedrito didn’t hit red and there we were standing in Don Day’s kitchen with everything a mother-in-law has except aprons and an attitude, ready to take our rightful place as, perhaps, the only two males in the chili sauce hall of fame.
We made a couple of changes to the recipe and not just because Don Day’s Wife says we never know when to leave well enough alone.
We changed the green bell pepper to a red bell pepper because we decided that Mrs. Clark or Mrs. Napier would also have given red the green light if riper peppers were available 100 years ago.
And when we couldn’t find pickling salt anywhere, we bought Kosher salt in Bonanza because Don Day’s Wife, a mother-in-law to five women, said, “Henry J. Heinz wouldn’t know the difference.”
DAWN’S CHILI SAUCE. THE PREPARATION.
Peel and chop tomatoes and onions, add pickling salt and let stand overnight. Drain well in the morning. Add celery, white and brown sugars, hot peppers, green pepper, white vinegar and pickling spices in cheesecloth. Keep to a low boil until thick, about 90 minutes (it should turn a burgundy/maroon colour). Remove cheesecloth bag and stir in celery seed (easy to forget/important to remember!) Ladle into sterilized jars and process. This will make around 3.5 litres.
This was Don Day’s kind of prep. This was quick and easy prep. We plunged (Don Day’s Wife’s word) the tomatoes (we chose plum tomatoes because they were the cheapest) in boiling water for two minutes then plunged (now Don Day’s word) them again in an ice water bath to make them very easy to peel and, with Pedrito chopping the onions, we were done the first day’s task in about 20 minutes (not counting the time we took deciding which beverage would be most appropriate for congratulating ourselves).
The second day was again about 20 minutes of work, not counting the 90 minutes we stood there watching to see the color change.
“No that’s more of a claret.”
“Better open a bottle of both and pour a couple of glasses to make sure we’ve got it exactly right.”
We were done. Well almost done. We still had to ladle the sauce into sterilized jars and in order to ladle it into sterilized jars, we needed sterilized jars.
Now Don Day appreciates the significance of jars because one of Don Day’s mothers-in-law, the mother of Don Day’s Wife, who possessed particular prowess at chili sauce making, had it mentioned at her eulogy. “If you didn’t return the empty jars”, the people waiting for the wake to start and the bar to open were told by the clergyman, “you would be off Priscilla’s annual chili sauce gift list. Forever.”
Now Don Day always returned his jars to his mother-in-law but he was wishing he hadn’t because Mr. Mason obviously didn’t include Mexico in his marketing distribution plans and Don Day couldn’t find any, anywhere. I started out at the Tuesday market and made my way all the way down to San Juan de Dios market (yes, there were a couple of refuelling stops) before finally deciding that all was in vain.
All Don Day could think of…well almost all Don Day could think of…I also couldn’t stop thinking why do they call it canning when it goes into jars not cans…was to head up to Mega, buy the cheapest possible thing that comes in jars, then empty and refill them. Then I noticed these little plastic containers on a dusty shelf of a dustier stall with colorful lids that were just about the right size.
There was only one problem. That sterilize word. I was terrified that if I put my plastic jars in boiling water they might end up looking like pasta water. As Don Day always does…OK, occasionally does…when he doesn’t know what to do, he asked the advice of Don Day’s Wife.
“If I just ran these plastic jars through the dishwasher, would you still eat the chili sauce?, Don Day asked.
“I would walk on hot coals to taste your chili sauce”, said Don Day’s Wife and, still to this day, I can’t tell if she was being sarcastic. Though she did suggest we tell the lucky recipients to immediately refrigerate it and eat it within a couple of weeks, or we might be poisoning all our friends.
So in went Don Day y Pedrito’s Very Canadian Chili Sauce to the little plastic tubs and off it went to those that promised to bring them back.
And how good was it? Well, because the glory goes to someone else’s recipe and because Don Day’s greatest achievement was finding the plastic tubs, Don Day thinks that he’s justified in saying it was damn good.
But how about a third party? How about the first person who Don Day’s Wife handed her tortiere sausage on a bun to and who, of course, decorated it with Don Day’s chili sauce? It was fellow Canadian Niels Henriksen and even though he wasn’t within earshot, Don Day knows he must surely have said something like “Whose mother-in-law made this awesome sauce?”