Page A4 / The Joan De Arc Crusader / Saturday, December 24, 2022

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The top five all-time Sahuaro cafeteria lunches

By J. Bueker

     I had the yummy privilege of dining in the Sahuaro School cafeteria for eight decidedly delicious years, enjoying every single lunchtime bite (well nearly every one). I was genuinely bewildered by those poor misguided classmates of mine who insisted on either bringing a greasy brown sack to school or dashing off to dine at home, when for a mere 30 cents plus five cents for a carton of milk, we could all enjoy consistently well-prepared and tasty food made on site, usually from scratch. Lunchtime in the cafeteria was nothing less than one of the supreme delights of attendance at Sahuaro School, and over the course of those eight years, I came to identify the very best of the fare offered therein:

5. Sloppy Joe with Tater Tots

     A Sahuaro cafeteria joke in vogue in the 1960s held that the term “Sloppy Joe” was an unacceptably crude appellation for this perennially popular bun-based repast, which should more properly be known as the “Untidy Joseph.” Well, the Josephs at Sahuaro were usually pretty outstanding and typically served up with french fries, or if we were exceptionally fortunate, the excellent Sahuaro cafeteria tater tots. Students who typically brought their food to school or went home for lunch were known to abandon their routine and enter the cafeteria line on Sloppy Joe days. There is little doubt that Mr. Dirty arrived on the playground for lunch recess on those days with a few well-earned orangish-red stains adorning his shirt.

4. Pizza Sandwich

     Universally beloved by kids, proper pizza was never a practical food item to prepare in the 1960s school cafeteria setting. Yet in the absence of a pizza oven, the Sahuaro cafeteria staff somehow managed to contrive this surprisingly pleasing substitute for the popular pie. Fashioned on a single piece of thick cafeteria bread (so technically an open-faced sandwich I suppose), this nod to classic Italian fare was topped by a simple mildly spicy meat sauce dabbed with sprinkles of shredded cheese and then baked. Sounds kinda gross, right? The fact that these things were consistently quite tasty was primarily attributable to the peerless bread products the Sahuaro cafeteria was able to consistently produce, year in and year out.

3. Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and Cheese

     One of the great early Sahuaro School traditions was the annual PTA spaghetti dinner, an event held in the cafeteria each spring for students, staff, parents, families and anybody else in the neighborhood who happened to wander in. The shindig was considered a major social occasion in the Westown area and often so well attended that the PTA staff routinely ran out of spaghetti before they did people seeking a steaming plateful. That very same spaghetti dinner also found its way into the school cafeteria lunch rotation of course, customarily accompanied by a tossed salad, fruit and the cafeteria’s exemplary garlic toast. The moderately tangy meat sauce was perfectly well seasoned with a generous portion ladled onto the more or less al dente noodles. There was usually little need to visit the “seconds” window after this filling meal.

2. Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Vegetable Beef Soup

     For me, the grilled cheese sandwich with vegetable beef soup was the Sahuaro cafeteria’s ultimate foray into comfort food, an exceptional combination that I still endeavor to replicate at home from time to time. Mass production of quality grilled cheese sammies is no mean feat, but it was the wondrous soup that truly ascended this meal into the Sahuaro lunch pantheon. Generous chunks of simmered beef mingled with assorted veggies like green beans, corn and peas in a wonderfully salt-laden beef broth to produce a sublime lunchtime experience that paired perfectly with the toasted cheese. Simply flawless.

1. Turkey in the Straw

     This simple yet savory turkey casserole concoction was an enduring favorite in the Sahuaro cafeteria for many years and quite simply delectable. A masterful composition of turkey, noodles, peas, carrots, and a creamy sauce, TIS was typically served with sides of corn, cranberry sauce, and the legendary Sahuaro cafeteria “homemade” roll with butter. A delightfully thin and crunchy crust formed on the surface of the dish to complete its uniform excellence, giving this timeless and sublimely delicious cafeteria dish the top slot as the Sahuaro cafeteria’s all-time pinnacle menu item.

The ultimate holiday treat: Grandma Garner’s sublime
“Floating Island”

By J. Bueker

     My mother inherited a small but potent array of amazing old southern recipes from her mother Lois and grandmother Garner, which included scrumptious fried chicken and a world-class chicken and dumplings. The surpeme delight however was their legendary Floating Island, an exquisite dessert formulation that endured as an infrequent but magical holiday treat on Joan De Arc Avenue.
     Floating Island essentially consists of clouds of poached meringue floating blissfully upon a sea of a crème anglaise, a variety of vanilla custard, and is a dish that appears to date back at least as far as mid-18th century England. While the ingredient list for Grandma Garner’s version of Floating Island is fairly concise and simple, the dish is notably challenging to properly execute, requiring focused attention and practiced technique, particularly with the custard preparation. I surmise that this complexity of execution was a primary reason for the comparative infrequency of the dessert’s appearances on Joan De Arc over the years.
     And yet Floating Island was incomparably popular at 3219. Very few foods of any kind inspired the excitement and anticipation we felt at the prospect of this fabled dessert treat gracing our dinner table. Eldest Bueker kid Sue Bueker Nolan remembers, “We had Christmas Eve at Grandma Swaggerty's house for many years. She adored Christmas, and always went all out to make it exciting and festive. It was during these years we were first able to enjoy this family favorite.” The recipe gradually passed on to the next generation and so made its way to Joan De Arc: “Mother learned to make Floating Island, so we had it often on Christmas Eve as well,” Sue said. “I learned to make it too, and made it several times when my girls were little. None of my grandchildren have ever seen or tasted Floating Island. I will have to dig out the old punch bowl!”
     A Christmas Eve shout-out to Grandma Garner, Grandma Lois, and our mom Barbara for preserving this ethereal ambrosia for ourselves and future generations to cherish. Happy holidays.


Grandma Garner’s Floating Island

Custard:
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Meringue:
3 egg whites
3 tablespoons sugar

Dash of nutmeg

Method:
1. Heat 1-3/4 cups milk in saucepan, just to boiling point. Lower heat. Meanwhile prepare meringue.
2. Spoon meringue on top of boiling milk and heat until egg whites “set” (1/2 minute). Remove meringue to dish.
3. Combine egg yolks, sugar, salt and remaining milk. Add mixture to scalded milk, stirring constantly. Cook until coating forms on spoon (3 or 4 minutes). Add vanilla flavoring.
4. Pour custard in dish with meringue and chill. Nutmeg for garnish. 4 servings.

Nutrition Facts
Per serving: 166 calories; protein 6.1g; carbohydrates 23.6g; fat 5.3g; cholesterol 118.3mg; sodium 234.7mg.

** Recipe taken from the classic AdeA cookbook Culinary Capers. Franklin Press, 1970.
____________________________________________________________________________________________ JDA

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