“Wait, do you guys have relish?”
“Yes, I just bought some.”
“Okay, perfect. I’ll see you tonight.”
I didn’t grow up eating hot dogs on the regular, but relish was a staple in my family’s fridge. A dollop of Daisy was a dollop of Heinz at our dinner table, and the only thing more key than ketchup on french fries was a full bottle of dill pickle relish for the red beans and rice.
A silver stockpot would sit on my parent’s gas range all day simmering, after an entire night of the beans soaking. Filling the house with the scent of slow-cooked ham hocks and broth, the deep pot of thick, red soup would plant the seed of anticipation for dinner the minute we got home from school. Once we were at the dinner table, whether the label on the hot sauce bottle changed; the ham hocks were large or small; or the weather was warm of cool; that relish jar was a constant. The stout bottle sat at the middle of our table for every round of red beans and rice and for all my sister and I knew it was the only way people ate the dish. Beans didn’t come without rice and neither of those came without relish.
When I told my parents I was coming home for a few days to do project interviews I knew that if I got the news to them early enough I’d have something waiting for me at the dinner table the night I got home. I called my dad from the airport the morning of my flight to discuss the plan, the night’s meal and whether the fridge was still stocked with a jar of the good stuff. They say there aren’t any stupid questions, but if whoever “they” are are wrong, “Is there relish in the fridge?” would be at the top of the list.
We conducted our interview over a bowl of food, each preparing to eat more in that sitting than one person should allot for themselves in the first course. But the pop of the relish jar lid commenced a meal that had always been fueled by the idea that our stomachs and that pot of beans were bottomless. The constant movement of the food, cycling beans and hocks throughout the vessel made it seem alive. The pot itself never seemed to empty, the bottom of it, constantly heated by the faint glow of a transparent blue flame, sent milky red bubbles to the top of the thick mixture of beans, ham and creamy broth.
There is something about the contrast of the unnaturally neon, yellow-green tint of the ice cold relish against the deep crimson hue that the piping hot beans acquire in their cooking. The beans alone were capable of turning a metal spoon into a scalding hot weapon against the tongue and the only thing that tamed them quick enough for us to eat was those tiny diced pickles.
“Red beans would be a dinner. I mean you cook a pot of beans, like your mom just cooked that big pot of beans, it’d be double that size because there’d be six of us in the house for one thing, plus those beans, that was two or three days of food. Beans and rice always. Meat would be in the beans.”