“You should’ve borrowed my FryDaddy,” my neighbor says as she sinks her teeth into one of my pear fritters, vegetable oil oozing from the corners of her mouth. I don’t know what a FryDaddy is, but if he’s the culinary equivalent to a sugar daddy, then yes, I would like one of him as well.
But it’s too late now. The damage – while relatively minimal when one considers the potential for a grease fire – is done.
It began easy enough. My dismal pantry has every item the recipe calls for, which is no small miracle since it’s mostly filled with boxes of hyphenated foods, like mac-and-cheese and one-minute rice. The only ingredient I stumble over is “self-rising flour.” I have flour, but does it meet the necessary qualification of “self-rising?” After a quick jaunt to the grocery, I discover that the flour I’ve relied on for years is not capable of rising on its own. It needs encouragement to reach its full potential.
Armed with my new Super Flour, I prepare my pear fritters with confidence. I even smirk when I notice that Paula Deen rated the difficulty of this recipe as “moderate.” Please, Paula, I got this one.
As it turns out, I don’t.
Cooking requires courage, a quality that disappears when I enter my kitchen. The recipe, consisting of seven little steps, mocks me. I can birth a child, run a half marathon and give a spa-quality pedicure from home, but I cannot do this.
A real cook has the magical ability to read between the lines of the recipe. She knows that “cinnamon sugar” is something you make by mixing equal parts cinnamon and sugar, not something you scour the spice racks of the local grocery for and then complain to the manager that “it’s simply preposterous you don’t carry something as commonplace as cinnamon sugar.” I know this now.
I second guess every step. How much oil? How thick should I slice the pears? My three-year old can follow the directions on a box of brownie mix. Pointing to the pictures, she tells me, “Two eggs, water and oil.” But I question if the water should be warm or cold.
Unless the instructions are written for a sheep, I lose my way. For instance, “peeled and cored pears” seems easy enough, except that I’m so overwhelmed by the task of coring that I forget the simpler task of peeling. The batter slides of the skin, making what can only be described as a pear spool.
Batch number one: terminated.
I begin the second batch and my husband comes into the kitchen because he’s alarmed that I’m cooking. He compliments the county fair aroma that clings to my salon-shampooed hair. I’m encouraged, considering fried food forms the foundation of his food pyramid.
He suggests I add more oil.
“Are you kidding? These things are floating in grease!” But he speaks my language, gently reminding me of the episode where Mr. Rogers visits the donut factory. Suddenly I recall tanned dough bobbing in vats of oil. I’m sautéing my fritters.
Batch number two joins their friends in the can.
I take a swig of courage in the form of a California Sauvignon Blanc and pour two more cups of oil into the pan.
My final batch of fritters dance across the surface of the oil, turning the golden brown and I begin to think I’ve got this frying thing under control. I even give a punctuated “HA!” as I toss the cooked fritters onto a plate–an exclamation quickly stifled by a snapping ball of grease that jettisons through the air and lands on the back of my hand. I regard the injury as a sign of frying success, but then the oil starts firing like a Gatling gun. The hailstorm of grease forces me to duck and cover. Eventually, I sacrifice my left arm, reaching up to the knob to turn down the heat.
A little shook up, I survey the damage. My stovetop is greased like John Travolta’s pompadour and the fritters have soaked up every remaining ounce of oil. I transfer them to a platter. They slide around like dead fish. My neighbor–the one who belatedly suggests the FryDaddy–drops by, sampling the fare. She’s encouraging, but I don’t actually see her swallow it and she does leave rather abruptly.
I’m discouraged and burned, but not broken. I have just enough batter left to cover a single slice of pear¬–one last opportunity to prove to myself (and to my mother, whose judging voice I carry with me whenever I cook) that I can cook at an intermediate level.
This time I proceed more slowly. I carry my pear slice like I would a fragile flower, gingerly placing it into the oil. I say a silent prayer.
The batter stays in place and turns into the color of clover honey. Angels sing.
“I think I did it,” I say to my husband as he looks over my shoulder at the lone fritter cooling on a saucer.
“Looks good,” he says, popping the entire thing into his mouth. I should be angry but it’s the first time in weeks my husband has eaten a piece–albeit a “slice”–of fruit.
I’m beginning to see a future filled with frying.
Editor’s Note: Thank you Andrea for your fortitude! We are so proud of you as we assume your mother finally is as well. We can only hope that pear fritters will be showing up on the menu of your next dinner party…even if the main course comes in a square box. Just try these tips next time and you will assuredly have crowd pleasing success:
*Start with a very firm pear
*Make sure to peel it first
*Don’t slice the pears too thin
*Make sure you have plenty of oil in your pan, we would suggest a minimum of 3 inches
*Make sure your oil is hot enough…it should register 375º F on a candy thermometer (we’ll send you one of those and show you how to use it) Oil that is not hot enough will result in a soggy pear fritter. Oil that is too hot will result in an undercooked pear fritter.
*Have a paper towel lined tray at your ready to soak up any excess oil
Andrea Goto lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. Her kitchen experiments (known as “cooking” in more conventional homes) most often end with a mushroom cloud of smoke or a call to Poison Control. In spite of this, she’s deeply loved by her husband who prefers neon-colored cereals to all foods homemade, and her 3-year-old daughter who will eat almost anything, as long as you call it “chicken.”
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