Block Party Potluck
one of the establish neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, PA
|The tents, tables and chairs getting ready|
I love PA. I vacation in PA. I lived in PA for about 10 years. I love PA from Philadelphia to State College to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between. This blog post is about my most recent vacation to the 'Burgh visiting my pals. They live in the city, the houses are old brick homes. Actually all homes within Pittsburgh are all brick by ordinance in response to the great fire of 1845 that swept through Pittsburgh burning down 11,000 homes and many additional factories and businesses. Homes in the downtown area are built close together, and there is no confusion between downtown Pittsburgh and the suburbs surrounding it. This is how I like to live - close to my neighbors because it does help build community and friendship. This is how it is on my pal's street, there are small lots with historic brick homes on each lot, and they know every neighbor by name, how long they have lived on the street, and are there for each other when in need.
There are residents that span recent to 50 years+ on this street. I love listening to Bette, one of the 50 years + residents on the street. She said that when she moved in, she was a newly-wed, and there were a bunch of other newly-weds on the street too. They all became friends, had cookouts and cocktails together and gossiped every once in a while about each other. She then recounted a story of new neighbors who moved in across the street from her about 50 years ago, and she recognized the woman back to her high school days. The woman, in high school, stole her cousin's boyfriend, and back then (similarly to now) Bette and her cousin "black-listed" this woman and vowed never to be friends with her. So finally, after a few months, this woman invited a bunch of neighbors over for a cookout, and Bette and neighbors discovered the woman's backyard was the best for block party cookouts, and the woman was married to another man, not the ex-HS boyfriend. It turns out, after that 1st cookout 50 years ago, Bette discovered that woman was actually a lovely caring and fun neighbor. After that, they became fast friends for life, watched each others kids, carpooled, and looked out for each other.
There are the middle aged residents who moved in about 20 years ago, like my pals. These middle aged folks have kids that grew up on the street, knowing Bette, and always getting a cookie and a "grandma place" to go visit. I had a lot of fun talking to the kids, the teenagers who are getting ready to go to college. Many of the middled aged folks, as well a my pals, are affiliated with the Univ of Pittsburgh. Like many teens bound for college, they want to stretch their wings and fly to a college away from Pitt. So, all of the teens are heading to Ohio, or further for college. Close enough to drive for a weekend, but far enough away that mom and dad cannot just drop in. The heartwarming chats I had with the teens are that they are very aware of who their neighbors are, and they know Bette, and her husband in advanced stages of dementia. They were raised to enjoy their time with their neighbors, and now they are old enough, to look out for their neighbors as well.
Then there are the new neighbors who moved on to the street in the past 5 years, they have their whole lives ahead of them, and they are optimistic like Bette was 50 years+ ago. This young ones have little kids, or about to have babies. The life of this street starts over again. The young ones want to know their neighbors, invite others kids over to play, have cookouts and cocktails, and really be a part of this special tight-knit community. I love that the kids were running around together on foot and their trikes like you see on a 1950s TV show. They know all their neighbors, so there is no fear, and the kids can be kids playing outside.
This block party was awesome. One thing you need to know is that the Univ of Pitt and PennState grads know how to tailgate, and that translates to a really awesome block party potluck. There was some of everything. Everyone made a dish, and the young dads on the block got together to build a charcoal spit in the backyard and roast a pig for over 24 hours. The pig came from a local farm, and was quite delicious.
|pig on a spit|
The side dishes were all homemade, none came pre-made from C@stco, or Gi@nt E@gle. Many of the dishes started out with locally grown or home grown ingredients. There were fresh lettuce salads, pasta salads, veggie salads, chickpea salads, strawberries, watermelon, corn, cookies, pies, brownies, and dozens of other dishes. And of course, in good tailgating style, there was the Iron City Brewing Company keg on tap.
|Bette's butter cookies|
Of note to me were the desserts. I usually don't love desserts, but the desserts here were irresistible. One of the new neighbors discovered that she has sour cherry trees in the backyard, and the cherries are perfect for pies and jams. They are a little too sour to eat straight away, so pies are the way to go. The new neighbor learned how to make pie crust, and baked sour cherry pies. The filling was so terrific, sweet and tart. Once word got out that the pies were made with cherry trees on the block, it took 1 minute for slices to be called dibs on. By the time I got there, there was only one small piece of crust and some cherry juice and a few cherry pieces left in the pan. I licked the pan, it was so good.
And then there were Bette's butter cookies. My pal has consulted Bette over the past 20 years about Bette's cookies. The recipe is the same as standard butter cookies. It is not the recipe, but the technique. Bette has that 50 years+ technique that my older relatives have. The cookies are light, crispy yet buttery-melt-in-your-mouth quality. The cookies are not overly sweet, and beckon you to eat another and another. I told my pals that they need to get in with Bette and learn her secrets before it is too late. Our grandmas, and great aunts have all passed away, and Bette is one of the last people we know who can make butter cookies like this. Bette's generation really knows how to make things from scratch, and I fear that modern society is losing that quality.
But, then again, I don't think all is lost, many of the younger folks on this street, there are people like me, Andy at Barista Parlor, Tandy and City House, Porter Road Butcher, and others who are trying to get back to the good old ways of doing things. I see some of the younger generation are yearning for all that is traditional, the old way and rejecting mass production processed food, probably because real cookies, really mac and cheese, real locally grown veggies just taste better. What would be the shame is that the younger generation having to re-create the wheel, experimenting over and over again to get Bette's cookies, and maybe never getting the secret method, when Bette is still here holding the key.
I actually live on a block here in downtown Nashville that used to be close knit, and we had potluck cookouts all the time. Neighbors have moved, the older neighbors have passed away, and we have grown apart to some extent over the past 5 years. I see and know some retired neighbors, and I know a few of the middle aged neighbors like myself, and in the past 5 years, I see a lot of young neighbors a couple with little kids, who moved in on the street with their whole lives ahead of them. I think it is time to see if we can have another block party potluck, and celebrate our neighbors, and feel the love and hope.