99 Bottles of Sauce on the Wall
Actually, more like 96 jars.
Quart jars, that is.
Yes, at the end of January I once again donned my operative apron to cook about 96 quarts of tomato sauce.
Why so much, you ask? Because, you know, that’s like 24 gallons of sauce. You could overflow a bathtub with that much sauce.
The answer is that I needed a lot of sauce to serve over the 54 pounds of ziti and 160 meatballs. Along with the bushel of salad, and the several dozen loaves of bread, of course.
The First Congregational Church of Southington has a mission trip for the high school-aged confirmands (those that are about to be confirmed), and for the last few years the missions send them to places that need some manpower. Usually they are involved with other groups that rebuild or refurbish churches and schools. This year, they are heading down south to assist with some of the damage from last year’s Hurricane Katrina. About a dozen or so are going, and while they will be put up in shelters, they do need to pay for transportation costs.
A few years ago, seeing the success of the Chicken Pie Scholarship dinner in the Fall, Reverend Rick asked my wife if she’d be interested in doing something similar to help the kids defray the transportation costs. My wife has a heart of gold, so naturally she volunteered my services. She volunteers my service whenever somebody needs to cook for a lot of people. In fact, one year, a couple of the church members had seen me in the kitchen so often that they asked her “Is that man a caterer? Because he’s pretty good and we’d like to have him give us a price on a party.” Naturally, I was a bit upset to learn that she told them that I was only her husband. Even more upsetting is that she sent them away without giving me a shot at bidding on the party. No, I’m not a professional cook, but if somebody wants to pay me for throwing a party, I think it’s only fair to give it due consideration.
The first year that we did this I learned something: no matter how accustomed you are at cooking for family and friends, cooking for large groups (we consistently have between 150 to 200 people) is just not the same. Yes, in theory one just takes a recipe and scales it up, but in practice it’s really difficult to work with the equivalent of four or five 5-gallon buckets of sauce. I tend to make meat sauces, so I needed to keep a pot separate for the vegetarians and cholesterol watchers. And I had to tone down the spiciness. And watch the herbs. And keep stirring.
And can you believe that some people can’t have wine in their sauce? The sulfites give them rather unpleasant reactions. Good thing that somebody warned the minister.
I also discovered that one is not even allowed to drink wine in the church while preparing sauce. Actually, the prohibition probably extends to more than just while making sauce – I suspect that they don’t want anyone drinking wine while cooking anything at all.
Like I said – it’s just not the same.
Anyway, by the third year we we had gotten the hang of it, and I’m pleased to say that this year was one of the best ever. We served about 170 people, and the dozen or so confirmands came down to serve and help clean up, and we were out of there by 9:30 – the earliest ever. Naturally we had some help from people who were carefully screened for the ability to work with sharp tools, hot pans, and who wouldn’t mind being around me for two days. And for the token bit of Masonic content, I’d like to thank Brother Ed for staying after dinner to help with the dishes, and his wife Polly who managed to not ask me about joining Order of Eastern Star as we scrubbed the pots.
We had some leftovers, so we made up large Ziplock bags of ziti and my wife ladled in some sauce and tossed in a few meatballs, and sold them the next morning after the services as “ready made dinners.” The dinner raised about $1,500 after expenses, and the only thing that we had left over was a large bag of ziti and some meatballs.
Anyone want to guess what I had for lunch for the rest of the week?