My father’s idea of a shore lunch was a can of Armour Vienna Sausage, which was kept in the Styrofoam ice chest that later would be used to transport home any fish we caught. Since the stuff was kept on ice, the packing juices often would congeal into goo with the consistency of axle grease.
Unlike revenge, Vienna sausage is not a dish best served cold.
Occasionally, we (my older brother and I) would be offered a can of Armour Potted Meat. This was usually served smeared onto slightly soggy saltine crackers—soggy since they, too, had been kept on ice.
Potted meat with crackers is another dish not at its best when served chilled.
When I began working with fishing guides, I soon learned they often had their own ideas of what made a suitable shore lunch, which more often than not turned out to be dressed-up versions of my father’s Vienna sausage and potted meat offerings.
A few years ago, following the publication of a story about the striped bass run up Virginia’s Roanoke River that I’d somehow managed to place in a national publication, I received a call from a guide extolling Lake Cumberland’s striped bass fishery, which, in his opinion, was as good as anything on the East Coast. I generally agreed with him but didn’t bother to try to explain that the two fisheries are as different as daylight and dark, and his comparison was an unfair one. We scheduled a trip, which, the guide boasted, would include a shore lunch.
I didn’t ask what was on the menu but should have.
My guide turned out to be a young seasonal worker hoping to make a few extra bucks hauling fishermen around the lake in a rented boat. His knowledge of striper fishing turned out to be somewhat limited, but he was friendly, cheerful and optimistic. I was his first customer.
Following a fishless morning trolling for stripers in a cold drizzle, I was just about to suggest that we head to the dock where I knew hot coffee would be available when he pulled into a cove and tied off next to a bluff bank that offered some, but not much, protection from the rain. Time for lunch, he announced.
He rifled through a dry box and produced a couple of wax paper-wrapped packs. Each held a baseball-size chunk of meat and a handful of crumbling crackers. Mustard was also available, as were cream soda and water.
“I call it ‘road kill’ sausage,” he said proudly. “But it ain’t really road kill. Made it from a doe I got during bow season couple of years ago.”
I declined the cream soda but accepted a bottle of water and, using the filet knife from my tackle pack, whacked off a chunk of the home-ground sausage and slapped it between two crackers. It wasn’t Armour Potted Meat. But it wasn’t bad.
Not long after this, I found myself on Arkansas’ White River in the company of three friends from church and in the capable hands of Lonnie, our guide. Like many river guides, Lonnie had an endless array of stories. He was also the shore lunch chef.
The menu included freshly caught trout (skinned and rolled in cornmeal), potatoes (cubed) and onions (chopped), all skillet fried, and some type of cobbler (already prepared but heated over the fire). To the potatoes and onions, Lonnie added generous amounts of salt and pepper, and then showered the frying pan with cayenne pepper. It was a corn-oil laden feast that, combined with the warm, midday sunshine and the rhythm of the river, soon produced food-induced comas among most of the fishing party.
At the dock, I asked Lonnie how long he’d been doing the shore lunches.
“I don’t know … long time, I guess,” he said. “I used to bring Vienna sausages and potted meat and crackers and stuff you could eat in the boat. Then we started cooking fish and potatoes on shore. People seem to like that better.”
I don’t recall my father ever eating from the chilled cans of mystery meats he carried in the Styrofoam ice chest, but they were in no way any type of retribution for the irritation my brother and I must have inflicted. He just wasn’t at his best in the kitchen, and the canned Vienna sausages and potted meats were fast, easy and efficient at quieting whiney children while he fished. I don’t know why he kept them on ice. If my mother had a hand in any of this, I have no knowledge of it.