The Mustard Thieves

I have been asked for many recipes. Some I gladly remit. Others remain a secret. There is pride in being able to produce a desired product that others cannot replicate. That fact alone has fueled competition and rivalry at regional and state fairs for a couple of centuries. A slight variation can make the most mundane fare a delicacy. Using rose petals to gently flavor corn-cob jelly comes to mind. One of my favorites would be adding beef broth to anything vegetarian to make it edible. These are many insider secrets of a small degree. To really display the power of a good secret recipe, I submit the following...

It has been many years since my mother began making home-made mustard. She obtained the mustard2starter recipe from a friend and tried a few batches. After a few adjustments and some rather unappealing results, she finally nailed down her masterpiece. The tangy, and now known in certain circles as "Mom's Sweet and Hot Mustard", has become another part of local folklore. As any rural folks will acknowledge, you don't just give away special recipes. I will go ahead and let you down now. Fear for life and limb prevents me from sharing her recipe. I can however, tell you some of the trials and tribulations associated with cornering the local market with such an unusual condiment.

My father had an inclination to make the rounds every morning and attend local card games. Going to bed early allowed him to rise before the crack of dawn and be at the local garage or fraternal organization for a few hands of Pitch. For those not from the mid-west, or unfamiliar with the game of Pitch, it is a card game with the value of each card variable depending on the number of players present. In simple terms, it was modified over the years to be played by a few, or a large group. Since the game was adaptable, playing for money was not unheard of. To this day, I am unaware of where other players obtained their card playing money, but I will admit that I know where Dad got his.

From the time I was very young until the age of... let's say 30, my great aunt raised chickens. I eggs1remember her selling eggs to the local school (no, none of us died without the new regulations) and plenty of eggs were left over. Dad carried several dozen of those eggs to sell every morning as he made the rounds. This increased his available card playing money. As dear old Aunt Tiny grew older, Dad decided she should no longer be burdened with the flock… and he sold them. The shrillness of the unexpected chicken dispersal is a memory that refuses to fade. I am sure my aunt received some solace in the fact that Dad no longer had eggs to sell.

It was about this time that Dad decided Mom's mustard would be a good replacement for eggs when it came to bolstering his stake in the Pitch games. My Mother was happy to donate the custardy yellow mix, as she felt his friends enjoyed her efforts. As usual, Dad blundered in his good fortune. He made the mistake of telling Mom that several of the card players wanted the mustard, as it bartered well. "You mean they give it away?", My mother growled. For the second time in his life, my Father's bargaining provisions dried up.

Even though poor old dad was out of mustard, my mother continued to produce the condiment for bwcanthose who truly appreciated it. One family who was originally awarded small batches of mustard by my mother, still seems to have a peculiar attraction to the concoction. Our relationship with the Meyers family started with hay... they baled square bales on shares, and later we hired them for custom large round baling. As our old Gleaner combine gradually wore down it was relegated to corn picking, and the Meyers family harvested our soybeans with newer machines. In the early days, there were only one or 2 of the Meyers boys doing custom work. Although they were paid for their labor, a couple of jars of Mom's mustard ensured our hay and crops were always in before a storm.

The Meyers clan grew. To keep up, Mom increased her mustard production. It seemed that everyone who was related to, or worked with, the Meyers were impressed with the spicy stuff. Trying to supply them with a fair share of mustard became a tactical challenge. There is a saying I am fond of. "You can't take just one Baptist fishing... He will drink all of your beer". The same is true of the Meyers and their consumption of Mom's mustard. You cannot give three jars to one in the jar1group and expect the others to get any. "Give one of these to your Brother" Mom would say, doling out a couple of jars. Within a week, the brother was complaining about mustard malfeasance. The mustard hoarding grew to such a level that I began cornering each of them individually and handing them a jar as if I were dealing illegal substances on a street corner.

Before you begin to see this story as aged, let me assure you that Mom’s mustard is still in demand. Missing mustard is still a problem when it comes to the Meyers. While attending one of the Meyers brother’s birthday parties last month, Mom brought 4 jars of mustard. I stood beside her as she explained that the mustard was for all of them. I heard one brother tell a young relative to put it somewhere that no one could find it. The next day, each of the Meyers bunch reported that they later found the bag empty with no mustard.

It was this latest disappearance that motivated me to come up with a plan. I advised my mother to issue each of the Meyers family a “mustard card”. If they ask for mustard, she can punch the card to make sure all are getting their fair allotment. Of course, my mother would never be so petty. Unbeknownst to the Meyers, my mom has a good idea who has the mustard each time a thievery occurs. Whether it’s a glance, a smile, or a nervous gesture, my mother spots the culprit. You may expect me to take credit for her keen awareness, but I blame my father for honing my mother's “deductory” skills.

While it is reminiscent of the wild west, this thievery has never devolved to the level of skirmishes and brawls of old. The mustard has been used for gambling, has been produced without colcangovernment oversight, and has caused families to lie and steal from one another to keep their respective cupboards stocked. It has also provided entertainment to rural families for a couple of decades. It is this relationship between the old and new… the supplier and consumer… the wise and the oblivious, that keeps the mustard tradition alive.

So, once again, I say no. You will not get the mustard recipe from me. Those true to their roots understand the exchange rate. The demand for the mustard is created by the fact that my mother makes it. The return... in my mother's case... is that people want her to make it. For me to interfere with that particular supply chain would make me worse than any of the other devious mustard thieves.