A row of packages of hot dogs disappeared from the refrigerated shelves at the local grocery store one day last week.
In its place were plastic bags filled with sauerkraut.
It's time. Fall has arrived in Baltimore, the season to slaughter pigs and cure cabbage. And make some applesauce, please.
On a perfect and cool October evening, is there a more welcome smell than a roast of pork in the oven? It's enough to make you forget about the loss of the World Series.
Roast pork is one of those heavy dishes I associate with Baltimore menus. This is not a town where lean cuisine does well. We love our bull roasts, fresh ham dinners, pit beef and fried oysters. We are, in case you didn't know it, one of the few places that think gravy should go on French fried potatoes.
The fall ushers in the big feeding season. It is the time to upholster the body for the winter. And what better way than a steaming platter of roast pig, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and applesauce? It's a dinner that is so good the leftovers taste even better on the second night.
There is a class of people who might say they don't enjoy this dish. They might pretend it's too heavy or too unfancy for their palate. Dishes such as ham and pork loin just are not as fancy as certain cuts of choice beef or fish like Dover sole.
So much for culinary pretension. It doesn't play well in Baltimore. Some of the worst goof-ups in food presentation in this city take place when restaurants try to go uptown. They fail with flying colors. They fall flat, oh so flat. They substitute supercilious attitude and Wall Street high prices for the genuine satisfaction that one of these October banquets delivers.
One of the great things about living in Baltimore is the very personal relationship people have with their pork butcher. It's almost like a hairdresser or barber. Your butcher knows all the intimate details of your kitchen. He knows how many are invited.
He knows just who is coming. He knows if the guests are strictly family or friends. He knows if the friends are special or merely acquaintances.
Then, of course, when you have made all these secrets known, he tells the whole market. Before long, total strangers are saying, "Well, Jacques, we hear you are having quite a party tonight. Why aren't I on the guest list?"
That's the way it is in Baltimore.
I think I've always had a certain respect for pork roasts because it was that dish that was served at my first dinner party when an honest-to-god butler answered the front door.
It was Billy Beers' birthday, circa 1965. The house was on West University Parkway. We were in high school.
I thought to myself, how fancy can a high school sophomore's birthday wing-ding be? What'll we get, hamburgers and maybe a cake from the caterer Fiske's if we're really lucky?
I was wrong. Very wrong.
I tapped the brass knocker on the mahogany door.
It was December. The house seemed polished and cleaned to perfection.
An elderly gentleman pulled the door open.
He was wearing dark trousers and a white coat.
His name was William.
His voice was so beautifully resonant I thought he could broadcast commentary for the Metropolitan Opera Saturday matinees.
He ushered me into the room with the other guests.
All the men had on ties.
Dinner was served in a gracious dining room.
There was a big damask table cloth.
Stieff silver was laid out in all directions.
There was a huge Samuel Kirk & Sons water pitcher.
I was desperately afraid I wouldn't know what fork to use.
Soon, William came from the kitchen with a silver tray the size of Oklahoma.
It bore a huge crown pork roast. Banquets for Henry VIII weren't this grand.
Each pork chop wore a little pair of white paper bloomers.
I thought I was in the finale of MGM's "Dinner at Eight."
That pork roast was delicious.
I had been to my party of the year.
I thanked the host and hostess profusely and praised the excellence of the crown roast of pork.
She modestly stated, "I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's only pork chops."