Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Liquid Memory

Today, I indulged in one of my favorite cool weather comforts: a giant, steaming pot of Slumgoyan. Sure, the thermometer is pushing 70 degrees outside, but that's positively brisk for September in South Carolina, and quite frankly, I couldn't wait any longer. There's nothing like the comfort of a bowl of Slumgoyan and all the memories that entails.

What is Slumgoyan, you ask? Well, I don't think my description of the soup is going to help your understanding any. It's basically a big, boiling pot of water, ground beef, onion flakes, salt, and the oh-so-crucial potpie bows (called "bowties" by the folks at Muellers.) Not flipping your culinary wig? Never heard of such a dish? And where did that ridiculous name come from?

Slumgoyan is my grandmother's creation. I have no idea where she got the name. I doubt she does either. Not certain when exactly its origins were, but I feel fairly sure that it somehow evolved around a need for simplicity and frugality. It is, after all, cheap and easy. She made it for my mother, who in turn, made it for me. It is comfort food in its highest form: simple, fairly plain, and familiar.

I never really comprehended how personal my love for this dish is until I made it for my husband. Steve, who will try anything once and is not one to criticize my cooking, did the unthinkable...he didn't like it. I was devastated. How could this man whom I love more than life and with whom I have such a connection dislike this food of my soul? He called it tasteless and bland, and even worse, he offered suggestions on how to improve it. I began to wonder how this marriage would ever work with two people who are so different. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but I really was shaken by his rejection of my favorite soup.

Now I'm reduced to clandestine affairs with my stock pot. I have Slumgoyan on nights when Steve has to work late or goes out with the guys. I even fixed it once when my parents visited, just so I could have that shared experience again. Don't misunderstand me. I love eating my Slumgoyan any way I can get it, but there's still nothing like digging into a piping hot bowl with your family yumming and eye-rolling their way through bowl after bowl with you. Slumgoyan is about cold, winter nights and being all bundled inside your home with your family. It's about old movies and lunches in front of the TV. It's leftovers reheated on Sunday after church and trying not to let the noodles get too mushy the next day.

Right now, it's just me and my bowties and ground beef. I spooned my way through three bowls today at lunch. I was so full I could hardly move, but it was a sweet discomfort. I was full of warm, nostalgic goodness. It's like memories in soup form.

In honor of my celebration of this family tradition, I am including a poem I wrote a couple of years ago about this wonderful soup. Please remember that I am a fiction writer, NOT A POET, and judge accordingly.


Made up name, made up soup.
Grammy's masterpiece of potpie bows
swim with ground beef and
that onion smell fills up every corner of the house.
Only allowed to have it in winter
no matter how much you might crave it come June.
The bigger the pot, the more leftovers
to heat up the next day and the day after
until the noodles are so soft they just fall apart.
Opposite of Mom's vegetable soup
that you eat in tiny spoonfuls
and chase with sweet tea and dirty looks.
Hot, liquid memory slides down your throat.

I still only have it in winter.

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