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Bacon Fat, Pickle Juice and Memories

When I was a youngster, my grandfather exhibited two specific "actions" which I now believe stem from the fact that he was Slovak rather than from any pecularity of his personality. Each of these "actions" were exhibited by my maternal relatives in Slovakia during my recent trip to Dhle'

I am speaking about my paternal Dezdo, George Gabriel Plichta, b. 23 Mar 1882, in Kosicka' Bela', d. 10 Dec 1961, married to Anna Krajnik.

George was the second oldest of the six sons of Jakub Plichta, b. 29 Apr 1856 in Kosicka' Bela', m. 4 Mar 1878 to Anna Biros/Birosik/Hoza, b. about 1857. (Remember the earlier posts about multiple names, my great-grandmother was called by one name and wrote another.)

I was a sophmore in college when my Dezdo died, but I remember him most when I was a youngster in grade school. Dezdo lived with our family for more than six years. He was always there when we came home from school and we had many wonderful times together. He was a built-in baby sitter for myself and my younger brother and sister.

But this is supposed to be about his "actions" that I found rather strange then, and which when I tried them, did not meet my idea of anything tasty. By todays health standards, he was digging his own grave.

1. In the mornings, when mom would cook bacon, Dezdo always and I mean always, wanted the bacon drippings to pour over his dark bread. Talk about colesterol. This was really "mainlining" it. It was something that I tried, but if you didn't eat it right away, when it cooled it was 100% grease. No thanks. Since then I have tried to watch my fat intake and did not think about this "action" of Dezdo's until my recent trip. I have been avoiding fat so that I might be a bit slimmer.

One Sunday afternoon, we all went on a picnic into the hills above Dhle' nad Cirochou. My 2nd cousin, Jozef, age 32, arranged the picnic as a special treat for my mother and me. We packed the cars; his parents (my 1st cousins), my mother and I in the rental car, and we followed young Jozef with his wife and two sons in his 20 year old Skoda. I had asked earlier what I could bring to the picnic, but he said that it was his treat and that he had provided for everything.

So off we went, driving over several dirt roads through the woods until we reached what appeared to be an abandoned camp grounds. I said appeared to be abandoned because the weeds along the road, and around the one main building, had grown up and were about to take over the place. It seems that since the communists have gone, the state no longer has the few funds needed to care for the place. But, as we drove through the woods, every now and then I would notice a car parked here, or a couple of bickles over there, or a blanket spread out on the ground under the trees with a couple enjoying each other's company.

When he found a suitable place, we left the road and drove up into the woods under the tall trees. The ground under the trees was clear and easy to maneuver between the trees. We stopped in a small clearing. I started to collect fallen wood for a fire, mostly small stuff, because I couldn't find anything larger. Then Jozef's dad pulled a large burlap sack out of the back seat of Jozef's car and there was the big firewood, from his wood pile at home. While we built the fire the ladies spread the food out on the hood of the Skoda, and I was told to look for some long branches to cook the food over the fire. Jozef's mother went off into the woods looking for mushrooms.

Jozef showed me a device he had borrowed from a friend. A small cast iron skillet, about 5 inches across, on the end of a long 4 foot iron handle. There was a second handle, just as long, attached as the lid. When you closed the two handles, like scissors, the lid would close down on the skillet. He placed the skillet deep into the coals of the fire.

When the roasting sticks were sharpened, we attached the following items: A large piece of "fat-back", a medium onion, and a piece of kobasi about 6 inches long. For you city folks who don't know about "fat-back" it is the part of the pig between the bacon and the outer skin, 98% fat (the other 2% is the skin). This was scored with a knife so that more surface area could be exposed to the heat of the fire. He handed me mine, along with a piece of dark bread, and showed me what to do. Place the food over the fire until the fat-back begins to sizzle, but don't let the dripping fall into the fire, remove it from the fire long enough to catch the dripping on the bread and then return it to the fire again. Continue dripping the fat on the bread until you have enough to season the bread.

Well, what could I do with everyone watching me to make sure that I understood what to do and did it properly. I dripped and I dripped on the bread. (But every now and then, when I was watching the birds in the trees, I would "forget" to drip on the bread until the campfire blazed up from the grease dripping from the end of my stick.) Tasty? yes. Would I do it again? not unless they were watching me. How could I do otherwise? I wouldn't order it if there was something else on the menu. This was their treat for us on this picnic that they had arranged. We ate and enjoyed both the company, the woods and the food.

What about that skillet in the hot coals? Well that was next. By now it was red hot. So into the skillet went about 6 each, one inch square and one quarter inch thick pieces of fat-back. Along with several slices of kobasi and some sliced onions. Some salt and pepper and then a fresh egg right from the chicken coop that morning. Everything started to cook as soon as it hit the hot skillet. The scissor handles were closed and the lid came down like a hot press on the food which was fully cooked in no time. This was then poured out onto a piece of bread, cut fresh from the loaf under his arm.

So what I thought was a strange "action" by my Dezdo, more than 45 years ago, was just a "special" treat in the woods, by my relatives today.

2. The second thing that Dezdo did, was to drink the pickle juice (vinegar and pickling spices) from the jar of dill pickles after the last pickle had been eaten. Occasionally he would have an extra pickle if it was the last one, just to get the juice.

Well on another occassion, we were driving up the the high Tarta Mountains for a day of sightseeing. Of course we packed our own lunch which included some thick slices of bread with lots of butter, some sliced luncheon meats, sliced yellow banana peppers (hot by some standards, but only mildly hot by others), and some small fresh tomatoes. Oh! I almost forgot, a jar of pickles. Well you know what happened after we ate all of the pickles, Yes, Jozef's father, after first offering me a drink, proceeded to drink most of the pickle juice.

Well, those are the two "actions" on this trip, on separate occassions, that reminded me about my Dezdo.

He has been dead for more than 35 years, but, as soon as I was told what to do with the sticks in the fire, I immediately thought of him. Boy it would be nice to see him sitting across the breakfast table pouring the bacon drippings on his bread.

And, I wouldn't mind it a bit, if he ate an extra pickle or two. I wonder if they have bacon, bread and pickle juice in heaven?

Frank Plitchta - Plichta@aol.com

"Searching the World for PLICHTAs."

I found Dezdo on this trip.

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