Call me strange, but I enjoy culture shock. I actually like having my paradigms poked, prodded, and slapped around. Being confronted with new ideas, lifestyles, practices, etc., is a learning experience that challenges one’s preconceptions and makes one more understanding and empathetic. I firmly believe that we become more fully human (and humane) by directly experiencing those elements of other cultures that are (to us, at least) unfamiliar, unusual, and strange.
I tried to bear all that in mind while I watched the water turn pink.
And not just any pink, mind you. We’re talking about the unnatural pink of your grandma’s viscous pink dishwashing liquid. Yep, that color. That’s what my dinner was cooking in. Pink dishwashing liquid. Hoo, boy! This was suddenly looking a lot less lark-like than I’d first imagined.
I remember the first time I saw these garish, neon hotdogs at the Piggly Wiggly soon after moving to South Carolina. I believe I blurted something inappropriate for women and small children to hear in the supermarket (or anywhere outside of their respective salons or schoolyards, for that matter.)
“Holy Inappropriate Blurt!” I exclaimed to my wife, “Look at those Inappropriately Blurting hot dogs – they’re PINK!”
Now, you might be saying to yourself ‘Hey, what the heck is he talking about? Hot dogs are supposed to be pink!’ I must, however, disagree. Memory is tricky; you may ‘remember’ hot dogs as pink, but if you look they’re actually more brown than anything else. And anyway, I’m not talking about the pink color we all associate with meat or even meat ‘products’. I’m talking about a shocking, almost obscene color; a color that doesn’t exist in nature so it has to be manufactured in a laboratory (probably the type of laboratory that has large, fulminating beakers and maniacal ‘lab technicians’ who eat bugs and giggle.)
I personally couldn’t imagine myself ever eating hot dogs that were dyed such an obviously life-threatening color. Silly me.
Somehow, I got this idea in my head that if I was ever going to fully understand my adopted home, I would have to experience all that was (to me, at least) unfamiliar, unusual, and strange about the South. Since my stomach seems to be the primary sensory organ through which I interact with the world, and since the average Southern supermarket is chock-a-block with such regional exotica as smoked hog jowls, pickled okra, canned pork brains in milk gravy, artichoke relish, and butt bacon, it seemed logical that I should start down the path of enlightenment tongue-first.
Having done a little research on the subject, I learned that unnaturally pink / red hot dogs are not strictly a local phenomena: Maine of all places has its own dyed-casing dog known as a Red Snapper; a small area in Upstate New York is partial to them also. Nebraska has their red Fairbury Dog, of which Wikipedia says:
“The color is highly appropriate, as this is the color of the famed University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cornhuskers. At Husker football games, one can buy a Fairbury hot dog or, alternatively, hope to catch a free one fired from the sidelines by a guy carrying “Der Weiner Schlinger”–an air-powered cannon that fires foil-wrapped hot dogs into the stands (it’s powerful enough to even reach the upper deck).”
Wow! Wouldn’t you love to get paid for shooting foil-wrapped hot dogs out of an air cannon? Heck, I’d do it for free just so I could aim for the unsuspecting fools who were actually watching the game and not paying attention to more important things, like catching flying tube steaks.
Still, I have to wonder what that would look like on a resume:
Interviewer: “Hmmm, it says here that at your previous job you were known as… Der Wiener Schlinger?”
Applicant: “Yes, that’s right.”
Interviewer: “I see. So, if you don’t mind me asking… how many films were you in?”
They may not be unique or even original to this area, but that hardly matters because when it comes to intensely-dyed meat products, one is absolutely spoiled for choice here in South Carolina. Not only will you find many brands of flaming hot dogs, you can also buy billyclub-sized smoked sausages so red they seem visibly angry. I figured I’d start small with the hot dogs and work my way up (plus, I didn’t want to further antagonize the sausages.)
Perhaps the most famous of the Southern pink-dog breed is the Jesse Jones brand. They are the centerpiece of the renowned Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog, what ESPN’s Terry Blount calls “the pride of the Virginia short track.”
(They sound so good, it almost makes me want to go to a NASCAR race but I know I’d just get myself in trouble by elbowing the guy next to me and saying ‘Hey, I think one of those cars down there has his left turn signal on.’)
I chose a pack of Andy’s Grill Delights, mainly because the name seemed to hold such promise, and because of their no-nonsense approach to descriptive packaging text:
“A Chicken & Pork Product” (Fine by me; I’m not a beef dog fundamentalist)
“Smoke Flavoring Added” (Hey, ashes are good for the digestion. Plus, charcoal absorbs poisons. How can you go wrong?!)
And my favorite:
“Artificially Colored” (Hmmmmmmm…..YA THINK!!!!!)
Andy’s Grill Delights are made by a Georgia company called D.L. Lee & Sons (Lee is kind of a popular name down here, as you might have guessed) who, in addition to making many fine non-hallucinogenicly-dyed products, also make something called (shudder) Chittlin Loaf. (Before you ask, and though this may be disappointing to hear, I won’t be trying Chittlin Loaf anytime soon. And by ‘soon’ I mean ‘I’ll eat my Doc Martens with braised shallots before I so much as poke Chittlin Loaf with a stick.)
I decided to simmer half the package and grill the other half, just to make a complete and fair assessment. Which brings me back to where I began, standing in front of the stove, staring into a pan of burbling pink dish soap, wondering where I’d gone wrong (not with the hot dogs, but with my karma.)
But let’s just get to the ‘meat’ of the matter. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and, as I learned, one shouldn’t judge a hot dog by its color: the first tentative bite was a Proustian moment that flung me back in time to my first trip to England.
It was in Devonshire, as an impecunious young backpacker, that I first tasted those small, filler-rich, and mysteriously delicious English sausages that would nourish and hearten me through an endlessly cold and rainy season. Huddled in my tent over my tiny Bluet stove, I drank in the warmth and the savory incense of those sizzling links, whose intricate weavings of mace, sage, and ginger I couldn’t then untangle. I just enjoyed them, as one does so many of youth’s pleasures, innocently and artlessly.
I hadn’t thought about those sausages for years, and had forgotten their flavor until that happy moment; to say the least, a transporting idyll was not what I was expecting as a result of biting into a hot pink Grill Delight. Suddenly, what moments before had seemed strange and off-putting became, in a word, delightful.
I was chastened. So, instead of making light of them, I decided to try and show their true nature in the photograph below by fanning them out into a blossom whose essence – and color – are really quite elegant.
If, that is, one looks beyond the surface.
The grilled version of Andy’s Grilled Delights were as promised. And, to celebrate, I made a trio of new cole slaw recipes to top them with (slaw dogs are another of those particularly Southern pleasures.) Look for them here tomorrow.
Please join us tomorrow to read our newest food feature, A Trio of Gourmet Cole Slaw Recipes, where we’ll share our 3 new recipes for Spicy Pineapple Ginger Leek Slaw, South Carolina Mustard BBQ Slaw, and Tarragon Buffalo Wing Slaw.
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