In Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1968 my sister and I learned to sing the Lead Belly song “Pick a Bale of Cotton”. We did not know who Lead Belly was, we barely knew what cotton was (we were a Brentford Nylons family) and we certainly knew nothing about slavery or the hardship of picking cotton in the hot, dry American south. We learned the song courtesy of a BBC radio program for UK schoolchildren called Time and Tune. Our teacher used to leave us listening to it while he went for a cigarette. Googling Time and Tune I am stunned to learn it is still produced today. This year’s Anglo-Saxon 7 to 9 year olds are learning Viking saga songs, presumably each accessing the program via an iPod Touch.
Anyhow, the Cackler and I sang a chorus or two of the Lead Belly song as we drove through Pima County AZ and marvelled at the size of an actual bale of cotton we saw sitting by the side of the road. It was a cotton block big enough to fill an eighteen-wheeler. That’s a cotton-pickin lot of cotton and something to remember next time you pick up a Pima Cotton bed set from TJMaxx or singalong with Lead Belly.
Thinking about cotton picking is thirsty work so once we reached Tuscon we ordered lunch at Augustin and to accompany it, a Bloody Mary for the Cackler and a Virgin Mary for me because I was driving. The drinks arrived in two large Mason jars, supplemented with the contents of the condiments cupboard. I took a healthy swig of mine and the Cackler tackled hers more cautiously. It quickly became clear that Sam the waiter (certainly his first day on the job and possibly his last) had mixed up the mixed drinks.
“Sorry” he said
” This could be quite serious” I slurred
” I know. I like your sweater Ma’am”
My cardi was particularly becoming and it’s hard not to forgive a cute young man with such good taste in knitwear. The Cackler and I swapped canning supplies and I am pleased to say the next leg of our journey was completed without incident.
On the road north, we saw several handwritten signs directing drivers to try Mona’s Fry Bread. Fried bread? This was familiar territory for two native Northern Irish and something not to be missed. We served off the highway and into a small Native American community of doublewides and lean-tos. The signs led us to a house on a small side street where tarpaulin screening protected a ring burner and propane tank from the desert dust. We ordered a fry bread with powdered sugar which a young woman with braids cooked then and there. We tore apart the plate-sized treat and ate it while we stood on the hot, dry street, watched by envious dogs and ignored by an older man and a woman sitting in plastic chairs in the side alley of the fry bread house. A couple of white men in military uniform pulled up and ordered their takeaway while we ate. Mona obviously does a roaring trade. A cross between a funnel cake, a churro and a fritter, the fry bread was the most delicious roadside snack I have enjoyed since a particularly good poke of fries with piccalilli in Belgium circa 1972. (I have a long memory for fat in various forms.)
I can’t swear that this was the recipe used but try it. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Back on the highway, we saw tumbleweed tumbling and the Cackler had something else to check off her list. America was performing on cue. Our desert drive was to be continued…