Never too old to start something new.

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2023

By Robert St. John
Food Columnist

“The best things in life come from patience.” – Author Unknown

As a kid I grew up across the street from a house on a lake. It was in the middle of town and the property sat on 40 acres. I thought it was cool that someone could live in a neighborhood on a lake. I set a personal goal for myself that one day I would have a house on a lake.

Email newsletter signup

A dozen or so years ago I bought property on a lake and hoped to build a house there one day. Those plans never came to fruition for several reasons and I eventually sold the property. After six decades on this planet, it was beginning to look that childhood dream and goal of one day having a house on a lake was never going to be realized. Then an opportunity arose last year, and I purchased a house on a lake. I can’t remember if I set a date and time to reach that childhood goal. Maybe I told myself I would like to own a house on a lake before I turn 60. If that’s the case, I missed it by a few months.

There are several times in my life in which I’ve waited, for whatever reason, before pulling the trigger on something. Years ago, when a friend would tell me about the hot musical band of the moment I typically didn’t feed into the fervor, and usually chose to wait a year or two before getting into the music. I was a late comer to cell phones. I can remember sometime in the late 80s telling someone, “If I’m driving and really need to make a call that badly, I will pull over and use the pay phone at a gas station.” It also took me a long time to buy a fax machine. I used the one at my accountant’s office for the first three years I was in business.

The past several years I’ve had friends trying to talk me into buying a Blackstone Grill. They have enthusiastically sung the praises of that piece of cooking equipment. I wasn’t interested as it seemed like nothing more than a big flat-top griddle. When I cook a steak, I want it to be grilled over wood or charcoal because fat dripping on coals creates the best aroma and flavor in grilled meats. Cooking a steak on a flat top griddle is something that has never appealed to me. However, hamburgers and hot dogs are a different thing altogether, and faced with a lot of guests at a lake house I thought the purchase would be a good idea. It has worked well. I cooked hamburgers and hot dogs for a few dozen people on 4th of July weekend.

This weekend I used the Blackstone grill in a different method as I cooked my family’s entire breakfast on it yesterday morning.

There are the five zones on the 36-inch surface where I can regulate the heat. I cooked bacon first. Once the bacon was fully cooked, I cooked cubed potatoes in the rendered bacon grease. Then, on the free side of the cook top, I cooked my grandmother’s pancake recipe. I’m not sure if the Blackstone saved any time but it’s certainly saved on the cleanup. A cast iron cooking surface is easy to clean if one knows how to maintain it.

My grandmother— a lady who was a master of the cast iron skillet— could have never dreamed that her pancake recipe would one day be cooked outdoors on such a large piece of equipment. She would have likely found it a complete waste of money, and she would have probably been right.

I spent the entire day at the lake. I rarely do that. Typically, I get up early in the morning, drive into town, and start my day at table 19 in the breakfast restaurant. This day I skipped church and laid around the lake house most of the day. The next sentence I’m about to type is probably going to be unbelievable for some but it’s a true statement. The number of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches I have eaten in my life could be counted on one hand. It’s true. I am a latecomer to this staple of the southern larder, but the fact that I’m a neophyte does not exclude my passion— or opinion— on how to make a proper BLT.

To my taste the perfect BLT depends on the correct ratio of ingredients. Bacon must be the star of the show, and the bacon must be crisp. Many favor tomato over bacon, I am not one of those proponents, even when the best heirloom tomatoes are available in the summer. I agree that the tomato must be of high quality, but to my thinking, much of the flavor comes from bacon.

The tomato comes second. It adds brightness, a little sweetness, and acidity to the flavor profile. But the sandwich only needs two layers of quarter-inch thick-sliced tomatoes.

Mayonnaise is a key player, and this is where most of the contention with my cohorts comes these days. I am a Blue Plate mayonnaise devotee. It’s what I grew up with, and it’s what I still use today. Its origins are from New Orleans and the company is still located in New Orleans. I know the Riley family. They are great people, and we also use their iced tea in our restaurants.

Several years ago, Dukes mayonnaise started growing from a local Carolina concern to a national player. I understand, it’s the mayonnaise of the moment. Several of my well known chef friends tout its tanginess. I respect them and their taste, but I’m still a Blue Plate man, and on my BLT, I spread it liberally on both sides of the bread.

When it comes to bread there is another point of contention with BLT enthusiasts, and it’s whether to toast the bread or not. If I’m making a Turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, I am pretty much making a BLT and adding turkey, but I toast the bread. My summer BLT does not get toasted. That goes against everything else I believe in flavor profiles and textures as I almost always come down on the side of toasted bread adding texture to a sandwich. For some reason the BLT— my BLT— is best untoasted.

Bread variety adds another point of controversy. Some want straight white bread, others opt for whole grain. I’m a wheat bread guy, but untoasted.

Lettuce is of the least concern when it comes to a BLT. I don’t want iceberg and would prefer something to add another flavor component, but lettuce is not the star, or even the co-star, of the show. It’s one of the cast of characters that appears at the tail end of the credits.

As always, salt and pepper are vital. I salt and pepper the mayonnaise after it’s been spread on both sides of the bread and I salt and pepper the tomatoes, too. This step should never be overlooked.

I typically eat a sandwich with some type of chip, applesauce, or pickles on the side. When it comes to pickles I go for Wickles (If you haven’t tried Wickles, what are you doing with your life?). In my world, the BLT stands alone. I don’t need chips or pickles. I can just enjoy the beauty and simplicity of it without accompaniment.

I wish my grandmother knew how many people love her pancake recipe and how many thousands of people have been preparing it since I’ve been writing about it over the past 25 years. I wish I would have eaten BLTs when my other grandmother was making them on so many Saturday afternoons.

Pancakes have been a mainstay of my life. BLTs are a latecomer. To enjoy both on one lazy day made me miss loved ones who have passed on, but also made me appreciate the culinary legacy I inherited. In the end, I guess we’re never too old to start something new. Some things just take time.