The best thing I learned at the Crittenden County Jail

June 8, 2010

Which is, btw, NOT where I have been the last several days.

I’ve been in Oklahoma, and then back home, and then trying to catch up. And not doing much in the way of cooking. Although I did cook something, I disremember what, on Sunday.

Oh. That was miso-mirin marinated chicken breasts, and they were pretty good. With sauteed squash and onions and twice-baked potatos.

Last night we went out and had burgers. Because we could.

And tonight we had grilled cheese and/or bacon-tomato-avocado sandwiches. Whereby hangs the story behind the Crittenden County Jail reference, above.

Back in my newspapering career, and given that I had a propensity to marry cops (Twice. I think it’s the leather), I spent a good deal of time hanging around the sheriff’s department and the jail. And the jail was a fine place to hang around when it came mealtime, because in those days, while there might not be a lot of variety to jail food, it was pretty good food. It was where a lot of the judges and lawyers came over and ate during court sessions, and was often the scene of a “feed” in the evenings when someone decided to fry up some fish or barbecue some shoulders.

Or a goat. We had barbecued goat from time to time. But I digress.

Anyway, there was a very nice man who was a jailer, by the name of Walter Farris, and whenever there was a meal that called for cole slaw (as do fish and barbecue, for two), Mr. Farris would make slaw. And he taught me how, and I’ve made it ever since, and that was, oh, some 30 years ago. It’s a rare occasion when there is NOT a bowl of this slaw in my fridge, because it keeps forever.

And here’s how you make it:

Take a bag of prepared cole slaw mix, or shred up your own cabbage and carrots. If you like onion and bell pepper in slaw, chop up however much you like; I don’t, so I don’t. Toss all the veggies together in a bowl that has an airtight lid.

In a small saucepan, heat a half-cup of cider vinegar, a half-cup of sugar, a half-cup of water, a teaspoon of dry mustard, a half-teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of celery seeds and a pinch of white pepper (optional). Bring it almost to a boil, at which point your eyes will be watering and all the stuff is nicely dissolved, and pour it over the veggies. Pop the lid on the bowl and let it sit, untouched, on the counter for at least two hours, or up to six or so. After two hours, give it a shake or a stir. Refrigerate it at some point, and don’t go eating it until the next day.

Folks, I am telling you, the only slaw I have ever had that can touch this, and it’s a similar style of slaw, is what they used to serve at Bill’s Grill between Marion and West Memphis back in the good old days before it closed and left a permanent dark spot in my pantheon of barbecue stars. There is absolutely no better slaw in the universe to serve on a pulled pork sandwich. None. Nowhere. Nohow.

Which brings me to why I drug that bowl of slaw out of the back of the fridge, where it was residing behind things that were old enough to vote. Because I was contemplating BLTs tonight on my way home when it occurred to me, about the time I pulled into the driveway, that I Had No Lettuce.

We don’t eat a lot of lettuce at my house. I’m not a huge salad eater, and no one else cares whether they have it on a sandwich or not. And I hate to buy a bunch of lettuce, use 3 or 4 leaves, and chunk the rest. So I declined the opportunity to leave again and go buy lettuce. I figured, hey, slaw ought to work.

It does. It’d work better in the absence of the avocado — plays wonderfully with the lettuce and tomato — but it and the avocado are not real good friends.

I’m thinking there are many BSTs in my future.

Made a new dessert on which I’ll report to you and y’mama ‘n ’em tomorrow, when I am grilling flank steak that is presently marinating in the fridge, and roasting corn and making zucchini fritters. And if I can figure out why the damn camera isn’t working, I’ll take pictures.

Having stayed up long enough to ensure Blanche Lincoln squeaked by in the primary runoff, I will now bid you and y’mama ‘n ’em good night.

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3 Responses to “The best thing I learned at the Crittenden County Jail”

  1. Kate Says:

    Bill’s Grill. I still miss it. I remember the lede on the story you wrote about it shutting down.

    …No more No. 1 with beans.

    Sigh. I miss it too. Damn, that was fine; especially on payday Fridays!

  2. Kate Says:

    And, that’s where Herbert always had special called school board meetings … in the back. I never complained about that location!
    Me neither. And that’s the first place I ever had a fried dill pickle.


  3. […] the chicken, we will have potato salad, jail slaw (see blog post from three years ago, here), and baked beans. And sliced tomatos. And strawberries and creme fraiche. Because it is Memorial […]


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