Frogmore Stew for All
This story was brought to KtB by writer Timothy Braun, part of a collection of responses he gathered from various people from all walks of life who he asked to design their “last supper.” No restrictions. The idea was inspired by the work of Melanie Dunea. Read more on his blog Federal Prisoner 30664. A request, by Timothy Braun. He writes:
My most vivid memory of Stacey Tomczyk is her locating my first grade classroom at Rogers Elementary School in Bloomington, Indiana. She read a list of names by a powder blue door. Mine was fourth on this list, right behind Angela Bogus. This was August of 1981 and my mother asked Stacey, the neighbor-girl, to help me on the bus and make certain I didn’t get lost. On that day I was marveled by how tall all the kids were, and commented to Stacey how the school bus had no seat belts. Stacey was in the fifth grade that year.
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- Coarse salt to taste
- 6 quarts water
- 3/4 cup Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 pounds new red potatoes, unpeeled and cut in half
- 2 pounds kielbasa, cut into 2 inch pieces (or other favorite sausage)
- 12 ears corn – husked, cleaned and quartered
- 4 pounds large fresh shrimp, unpeeled
Sauté onion, garlic and salt in large stockpot. Add water and Old Bay and bring to boil. Add potatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Add sausage and cook for 5 minutes more. Add corn and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in shrimp and cook until pink (about 5 minutes). Drain immediately and serve.
Adding the ingredients in order and cooking for the stated times is important to the success of the recipe. What separates Frogmore Stew from a big pot of various boiled food is how it’s served. For indoors, use newspaper/newsprint as a tablecloth and dump the entire contents of the (drained!) stockpot onto the center of the table for all to pick and choose as they please. For outdoors, make cones of newspaper and scoop into individual servings. For extra kick, add chili powder with the Old Bay and serve with Tabasco sauce. Adding fresh lemon juice and wedges to the cooking water is also a common option.
From there, I remember fragments or pictures of growing up next to one another, but can’t make up or down or backwards or forwards with any of it. She showed me how to fly a kite with owl eyes one day, she borrowed a cup of milk from my mother on another, we watched a claymation version of The Little Prince in my basement on a Saturday night. She was fiercely independent, took crap from no one, and I recall Stacey having heart problems. To this day she has a cut that runs up her chest, which I prefer not to ask about.
I found Stacey in Peoria, Illinois this May. I hadn’t seen her in twenty years. I asked her to be my first “last supper” interview. As expected, she agreed, but dumped my five questions to the curb (sort of) for her own responses.
Being asked to plan your Last Supper, or last supper, perhaps, is certainly amusing. Intriguing in fact. For it implies that you’ll know when it is and be able to prepare. Tending neither towards suicide, shady behavior that would put me on constant alert for mafia hit men, nor irredeemable criminal activity that would warrant the ultimate sentence, it is unlikely that I will be forewarned in time to make it to a grocery store.
To be frank, I always rather hoped I wouldn’t know when it was coming, preferring the image of snuffing it in a spectacular, fiery single-car wreck that would have likely been preceded by one more champagne martini than I remembered ordering. And Prince on “eleven”…or perhaps Tom Petty. However, being afflicted with a pesky heart condition, it is more likely that I will drop dead with no prior notice from something less sexy like an exploding aorta. If that, indeed, is the case, my last “supper,” depending on time of death, will most likely be a cup of coffee, a Granny Smith apple and a cup of stale Gardettos, or tuna eaten out of the can over the kitchen sink while dancing solo to Loreena McKennitt … or Lyle Lovett … or Marc Cohn … or Leather & Lace: Women Rockers of the ‘80s Volume II.
But here, I suppose, is the opportunity to dream big and plan the fantasy Supper. Of course, the obvious “perfect” comes to mind: A blow-out party of a lifetime that is not for me but from me. A last chance to give pleasure to those I would miss caring for. On a beach somewhere off the coast of Georgia … or perhaps a lighthouse off Rhode Island … I would serve steaming Frogmore Stew in newspaper and my great grandmother’s homemade bar-b-que from bubbling cauldrons by a roaring bonfire. I’d have baskets of pineapples, strawberries and melon slices ripened to perfection. Barrels of stouts and flavorful ales. Hand-cranked ice cream, gooey pecan pies, tangy Key lime pies, brownies easily mistaken for fudge, and chocolate chip cookies barely distinguishable from warmed lumps of dough. There would be people I’ve picked up through my entire life: the musicians and the mathematicians, the pilots and the poets, the playwrights and the photo journalists, the actors and the engineers, and the far-flung friends who defy categorization. And Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and maybe the Johns from They Might Be Giants, since this is, after all, a fantasy. There would be music, laughter, dancing, spontaneous duets of Sondheim songs and the ever-present roar of wind, water and waves. And I would wander through it all, drinking dry prosecco from a crystal flute and eating nothing, flirting with all the boys and making out with friends’ husbands who used to be my lovers. What better parting gifts are there than seductive flashes or remembering and the superiority of forgiving a lesser someone’s sins? And then I would slip away unnoticed before anyone thought to toast or speechify.
However, the obvious doesn’t really cut it. I don’t actually care much for parties and would never philander with someone else’s husband. And, to be honest, sharing the end so extravagantly might be too lonely to bear. So, should I be so fortunate to choose, my last supper would feature that main course of prosecco in a crystal flute, a side of cell phone call to the keeper of my keys, and a dessert of simple emails to those who would need them. Then I could wander back to the kitchen, my center, and calmly wash, dry and put away the crystal flute in a quiet, symbolic tidying up for a new day. While dancing solo to Loreena McKennitt … or Lyle Lovett … or Marc Cohn … or Leather & Lace: Women Rockers of the ‘80s Volume II.
Stacey Tomczyk is the promotions director of the local PBS station WTVP, local being Peoria, Illinois, where she lives on the banks of a pork chop-shaped lake.