The torch has been passed. My mother called to ask for the recipe for Mock Lobster Salad. She wanted to make it for a postshuffleboard tournament potluck. For a second I couldn't respond. How could she not have the recipe? Why ask me?
Of course, I had it. When I was in my 20s, I prepared it for summer picnics, as a novelty "campy" item. But in the Age of Arugula, the recipe has yellowed in my three-ring binder of recipes not found in cookbooks. As one in the vanguard of baby boomers, I now find that my picnic salads tend toward eggplant or artichokes.
My parents married in 1942, just before my father was drafted. During his Army training, my mother followed him from base to base, finding rooms and temporary jobs in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
The rooms she rented never had cooking facilities, so she ate at local restaurants. She remembers a steady, tedious diet of hamburgers in Muskogee, at the foot of the Ozarks. There she was close to Camp Gruber, 18 miles up a mountain road, where my father's battalion was being trained to handle mule packs in Burma.
After my father was discharged from the Army, he and my mother returned to their hometown, a small community in western Michigan. It was here, around 1946, that my mother first became acquainted with Mock Lobster Salad.
Another soldier from their hometown also returned after the war, bringing along his Southern bride, Musette. Michigan's long winters did not make a favorable impression on Musette, and soon the couple moved to Georgia.
But the two young couples had become friends, a bond that would last all their lives. While Musette was still in Michigan, her mother-in-law shared the recipe for Mock Lobster Salad with her, and Musette immediately passed it on to my mother.
My mother doesn't know its origin beyond Musette. It has always spoken to me of World War II improvisation and frugality: In the '40s, both my mother and Musette had to become adept at coping with the rationing of everything from gas to sugar.
There is also a whimsical, imaginative element in the recipe. These two young brides could prepare a dish that had lobster in the title, even though neither had ever tasted the real thing, or were likely to find it in the local grocery store. It hinted at life in fishing villages in New England – or dinner at a big-city restaurant.
For those reasons, this salad rose above the standard potato salad and jello molds.
At the picnics of my childhood – whether on one of the many small inland lakes or on the shores of Lake Michigan – Mock Lobster Salad was always there. It was the symbol of summer, its pink, salmony color matching our sunburns and the sunsets when we packed up to head home.
Now my mother has lost or misplaced the recipe. But its loss is less important than the possible loss of memories attached to it, with their names, places, and chronology.
So I typed up a copy of the recipe and mailed it off to her.
I accept this responsibility. As part of the older-generation-in-training, I now pass on the recipe.
Mock Lobster Salad
1-1/2 cups chopped celery
1 small green pepper, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
30 saltine crackers, broken into small pieces
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
1-1/2 cups tomato juice or V8
1 small onion, thinly sliced
In a large mixing bowl, combine celery, green pepper, eggs, and crackers.
Measure mayonnaise into a medium bowl and whisk in tomato juice or V8 until blended. Pour over cracker mixture. Press onion rings into mixture. Cover and refrigerate 3-1/2 hours or overnight.
Serves 8 to 10, depending on serving size.