Okay, it can be an excuse to eat junk food. But it is also an example of food linked with experience, like traditional holiday foods or your favorite food for birthday dinners. You could even argue that it’s the food that helps make a sporting event into an *event* (at least, for those who aren’t actually playing the sport). I was reminded of this fact listening to a recent NPR story on Pedestrian sporting events in the 1800’s. About the days-long walking-in-circles endurance races, author Matthew Algeo notes:
“. . .people didn’t go just to watch the people walk. It was a real spectacle. There were brass bands playing songs; there were vendors selling pickled eggs and roasted chestnuts. It was a place to be seen.”
Also, the walkers drank champagne.
When I lived briefly in South Africa, my fellow University students explained cricket as “a reason to have braais [cook outs] that might go on for days.”
And, of course, tailgates.
So, in this tradition of food making the spectator sports, I recommend organizing a backyard Wiffle Ball tournament concurrent with a backyard ballpark dinner worthy of a grand summertime event. Or just eat the food while listening to a ball game on the radio. Cooking works up enough of an appetite.
Ballpark Dinner Menu:
- Beer and Root Beer – A nice shandy would also be tasty (perhaps more appropriate to a Cricket match, but still tasty)
- Roasted Peanuts and Cracker Jacks – I love this popcorn recipe from Brown Eyed Baker, although as a member of Red Sox nation I do feel compelled to substitute maple syrup for the molasses. Don’t make these when it’s humid out or you’ll have a sticky mess, just buy the little boxes.
- Soft Pretzels – See recipe below.
- Hot Dogs – I would do a Chicago Dog in spite of my Boston baseball allegiances (that is a beef hot dog with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, pickled sport peppers, chopped tomato, a particular neon green relish, dill pickle and celery salt). Or do sausages with peppers and onions. Or both.
- Onion Rings – I use this recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen. It’s done in an oven, which makes it much easier to make large batches. I use Panko instead of bread crumbs; crushed potato chips also work (that’s a Cook’s Country Cookbook trick).
- Sort-Of French Fries – It all depends on how healthy you want to get. Cutting various root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, etc.) into slightly-larger that matchstick “fries”, tossing them in olive oil, salt and pepper, spreading them out on a sheet pan and baking at 425 until they’re brown and crispy, then serving with ketchup is a solid compromise between ease, health, and salty crispy yummy-ness. You could also fudge it further into the salad world by tossing a bowl of thinly slice chard, or super-thinly sliced kale, or delicate salad greens with your favorite vinaigrette (maybe some well-cooked garlic and minced red onion or shallots too, if basil is in season I’d also thin slice a good handful of that to add) then tossing the hot-from-the-oven roots into that bowlful to wilt the greens.
- Watermelon Slices
- More Cracker Jacks and also Ice Cream Sandwiches – To make the ice cream interesting, buy the standard ice cream sandwiches from the store, then make some sundae toppings to use as dipping sauces for them. You can cut them into smaller pieces to make dipping easier. Here are three basic sauce recipes from the Brown Eyed Baker: hot fudge, butterscotch, strawberry. Also, if you feel a need to improve your library of cookbooks with ice cream sundae ideas (don’t we all feel that way sometimes?) I’d recommend the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams cookbooks.
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Soft Pretzels Recipe:
1 cup warm water
1 Tb yeast
1 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tb baking soda
Pretzel Salt / Coarse Sea Salt / Kosher Salt
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Stir in 2 cups of flour and salt, keep adding flour and stirring until you have a kneadable dough. Then, knead the dough on floured surface until elastic.
Divide dough into 12 pieces, roll each into a rope (this part is best done away from a floured surface), and form into pretzels (make a loop, cross the ends at the top of the loop and fold them down into pretzel formation – if they’re sloppy it doesn’t matter, it gets easier with practice. If you want pictures, check out this pretzel shaping guide from The Kitchn).
Place the pretzels onto two well greased baking sheets and cover with plastic wrap.
Turn the oven to 425.
Fill a wide, high sided skillet (we have one that is 14″ wide with 4″ high sides) with water 2/3 of the way, and add 1 Tb of baking soda. Bring to a low boil. Drop in the pretzels a few at a time, flipping with a slotted spoon when they rise (about 1 minute each side) then returning to the baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt (you could add melted butter before sprinkling if so inclined). Bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You can skip the boiling part and go straight to the baking to save time, just use butter or an egg wash to make the salt stick and turn the oven on to heat up when you start mixing the dough – these don’t require rising time.
Serve with mustard.