News of Otsego County


Front-Porch Perspective Avast, Maties!

Front-Porch Perspective

Avast, Maties!

Editor’s Note: Only a partial version of Front Porch Perspective was published March 12-13.  Here’s the full version.

By JIM ATWELL • Special to

Nope, I’m still not sitting on my front porch, laptop frozen to my lap. Maybe after I spot a first crocus, I’ll try writing out there again. Hey, I’m old and a bit ditsy – but not nuts.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Meanwhile, last week some whimsical friends did find a way to distract themselves and me from the winter. They organized a pirate party and held it at our house.

And what, you ask, is that? Why it’s an indeterminate number of adults, middle-aged or (in my case) decrepit.  It centers on some slapdash costuming, eating and gulping ersatz piratical fare, singing appropriate chanties (“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” etc.) and, if adequately oiled, attempts to dance the hornpipe.

As to the ragged hornpipe dancing, quoth the Bard, “Oh, piteous spectacle!”

By luck, no clear photos survive, especially of the hornpipe. Several pirates might have to remain in disguise for years.

But the edibles that the invading pirates hauled into our house – well, they were gob-smackingly, lip-lickingly grand. Cheeses and cold meats, jumbo steamed shrimp, a smoking kettle of what its maker called “shipwreck stew.” For the last, I presumed to suggest a more piratical name. The cook humored me, and her splendid stew was renamed “slumgullion.” (You might look that up.)

My own contribution was a specialty from my home state, but one that sounded, I thought, suitably violent: Maryland beaten biscuits. And making them involved every pirate present.

After mixing a batter similar to pie pastry, though lard was an essential ingredient, one rolls the result into a flat sheet and then beats it with a mallet for twenty minutes – if the biscuits are just for home folks. But if company’s coming (or pirates), pound away for a half an hour.

What a rollicking, communal project that pounding became! When the most attractive of the marauders was taking her turn, she matched her malleting’s rhythm to dance steps – and that got the rest of us swaying and singing. ”Sweet Georgia Brown!”

To me, that will remain the highpoint of our pirate

partying. But the biscuits turned out as memorable, too.

A half hour of pounding gave the seeming pie pastry a soft, puckered texture. It was easily rolled into a long snake. Then pieces were pinched off the snake’s end, each about the size of a golf ball.

Each of these was rolled to a perfect sphere and added to those already placed on a jellyroll pan. The low sides, please note, will reflect heat and add something special to the baking. Don’t’ ask me how. It just does!

Oh, and when two dozen golf balls are arranged in rows of six, the tops of all are lightly pricked on with a household pattern as unique as a horse farm’s brand. Then into a hot oven for around 12 minutes. Watch closely! They should not brown, but only tan.

Now, take a hot biscuit and split it: a unique fragrance and a texture, not flakey, but at once firm and cushiony.

Lay across that open biscuit a thin slice of country ham. No! not cold and just out of the refrigerator! A paper-thin slice at room temperature. The biscuit’s heat will release the ham’s flavor.

If you should suggest that all the above somehow merges cookery with magic, any beaten biscuit cook will respond, “Damned right!”  Though if the responder is a family grandma, she’ll more likely just grin, wink, and click her tongue against her upper plate.

You’ll get no secrets out of her. Tight-lipped as a pirate, is she!

Jim Atwell, a retired college administrator and Quaker minister, lives in Cooperstown.

Posts navigation

21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103