Cornering the Market on Mint in Montgomery

If anyone in Montgomery was looking for mint this weekend, they were out of luck.  Mr. NewYorker bought every last package to be found in Winn-Dixie, Publix and Fresh Market.

You need a lot of mint to make mojitos for a crowd.  Lifelongnewyorker should probably have surveyed the mint situation before she invited 20 people over for a night of Mojito Madness.

Back on Staten Island, the what-to-do-this-weekend dilemma had many possible solutions.  Go out to dinner at one of many many restaurants. Catch a local play in which friends were appearing.  Head into Manhattan for music or theater or dinner.  So many activities, to be done in the company of friends or in the company of strangers.

The pickings are slimmer here.  There are a half-dozen restaurants worth eating in.  The Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF) puts on excellent productions, but not that many.  After a few months here in the South we realized that, if we wanted to have a social life, we were going to have to entertain.

I now believe I’m on the road to becoming the Pearl Mesta of Montgomery.  Well, of  a certain slice of Montgomery’s population.

Our first foray into entertaining was in May when we held a housewarming.  We told people to come over around 7:30.  This was our first lesson in how people here are different from those in New York.  At 7:25, the doorbell rang and our first guest walked in.  By 7:35, there were twenty people in our living room.  The folks who rang the bell at 7:40 apologized for being late.

I like to entertain, but the 25-person party is work, and I could see that Mr. NewYorker didn’t feel like doing it once a month.  So the next foray was right out of Martha Stewart: we invited about five friends over for a Make Your Own Pizza night.

This idea came to me while sitting at work and I sent the invites out without quite doing my homework.  Our crop of basil was flourishing, so we’d have pesto.  Likewise, an abundance of ripe tomatoes meant slow-roasted tomatoes would be offered as a topping.  I checked via e-mail with my old hairdresser, Jimmy, that my recollection about making a nice light pizza sauce was right (it was: crushed tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and a little bit of dried oregano; cook for no more than 15-20 minutes).  To the two sauces we’d add three cheeses: goat, feta and mozzarella.  For toppings, we knew we could get pepperoni, olives, artichoke hearts, onions and red pepper.

Which left the issue of the crust.  Back in New York, I’d have visited either Johnny’s pizzeria or stopped at Moretti’s bakery and picked up pizza dough.  But that option is not available here.  So we went shopping on the Great Pizza Crust hunt.  I thought flatbreads would work nicely, but Mr. NewYorker was aghast at the idea of using pita as a pizza base.  We’ve been told that the Publix in Florida offers frozen pizza dough, so we carefully inventoried the contents of three frozen food aisles before confirming that the Publix in Alabama, alas, does not.

Near the gourmet cheeses we found a display of Mama Mary’s perfectly formed crusts, or bread disks as I came to think of them.  They were geometrically pure, and pocked at regular intervals with mysterious round indentations, clearly made by machine.  They were firm, like LPs.  But they were the right size and hey, what else were you gonna do?  But just as I moved to place them in the cart I saw the “use-by” date: December 27, 2010.

Pizza dough with a 7-month shelf life?  I put them back.

Finally, we found the Boboli, a pre-made crust we used often when the Abandoned One was small. We wanted the personal size, and visited several markets in search of it.  Finally I went online and entered my zip code.  Alas again, if I wanted personal size Boboli, I’d have to drive to Birmingham.  But the 12-inch would do.

Wanting to duplicate the crispness of New York pizza, I simply slid each pie laden with toppings directly onto oven racks, as the packaging suggested.  I then took one of my guests on a house tour, only to return to the kitchen in time to find smoke billowing from the oven.

The toppings had dripped.  A lot.  But the pies were fine, and the next day we simply put the oven into self-cleaning mode.  Four hours later, all that remained were five small ash piles on the oven floor.

Last week I decided it was time for another party.  Again, this thought happened at work.  I’ve become a disciple of spontaneity, so I dashed off an invite to a Mojito Party and asked my guests to bring some tapas.  I included Mr. NYer in the invite so he would know what to expect. Folks really liked the idea of mojitos.  A winner!

What neither of us expected was a shortage of mint.  The mint in people’s gardens? Bolted, burned and gone to seed.  Mr. NYer travelled from market to market in search of mint.  I came home on Thursday to find a few small plastic packages in the refrigerator.  I looked up recipes for mojitos by the pitcher.  According to these, I would need anywhere from six to ten cups of firmly packed mint leaves.

So, on Saturday morning I went out in search of mint. Perhaps Publix had a delivery.  It didn’t.  I went to the Curb Market, a farmer’s market downtown.  None.  I came home and pulled the mint out of the refrigerator, and stood there gazing at it.  Mr. NYer came in, “Do you want me to go out [in this 100-degree heat] to Fresh Market?” he asked.  “I’ll do it if you think we need more mint.”  Well I did think so, and he made yet another mint run.

You know the end of this story, don’t you?  I made about 16 quarts of mojitos Saturday night.  It was good.  And I have plenty of mint for my iced tea this week.

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4 Responses

  1. I came across a similar shortage when in Syracuse last summer and was not able to have a mojito. Who would have thought that a plant noted for its propensity to spread would be in limited supply!

  2. Glad the pizza party and the follow-up mojito party were both successful. It brought back memories of a very long and vary large daiquiri party (in grad school days) that started with a case of bananas and two flats of strawberries and end with whatever we could find in the vegetable drawer, including tomatoes, yellow squash and zucchini.

    PS – the Publix pizza dough is in the Bakery, not the frozen food aisles. You might have to ask ’em for it. 🙂

  3. Dear Pearl,
    This year I learned that playing hostess in Big PIne Key is nothing like entertaining in New York. Some guests show up 15 minutes early, some a few hours late and some uninvited. No apologies.

    I had a harder time adjusting to the early birds than the crashers. I like to save the showering and dressing for last in the hope that I won’t be a sweaty mess when the guests arrive. I should keep a robe in the bathroom.

    Herbs are not to be found on Big Pine unless you grow your own. I’ve been told that some herbs will survive the summer if they’re planted in the shade. However, there are always limes and lemons. Once while feeding the hens and baby chicks in the Winn-Dixie parking lot an elderly man presented me with a bag of perfect homegrown Key limes. So I’ve learned to make frozen margaritas with an ice cream machine–you know the Cuisinart kind. It’s a hit. And requires no herbs, just lots of lime juice, the more the better. Lucky you to have Fresh Market!!!

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