The Wine Country Online


This Fall 2000 issue features the first in a series of short, behind-the-scenes observations by the irascible Morris Pishpot, wine country gourmand. Always in the company of the mysterious and lovely Miss Helena, Morris is the invariable outsider. He reports irreverently from inside the world of catering as he bumbles from one wine country event to the next.

A Jazz Picnic Breakfast

BY: Morris Pishpot, S.C.P. (Sonona County Picknicker).
DATELINE: Healdsburg, California, Sunday, June 4, 2000 . . . . 10 p.m. . . . .

The lovely Miss Helena and I were snug in our bed, dreaming blissfully of happy days now and past and in the future, when there was an alarming clanging about the room. We awoke, much to our dismay, at 6 a.m. this past Sunday morning because "We must work at the winery today, my sweet sluggish salamander," the lovely Miss Helena explained to me. "We must make pancakes drenched in delicious homemade Zinfandel syrup served with loads of coffee and wine and slathers of bacon with several large fruit plates on the side."

"Oh, dear," was all I could mutter.

"But there will be a four-piece jazz band arriving at 9 a.m. or so to provide entertainment," the lovely Miss Helena encouraged me. "And all the flapjacks you can stuff down your craw!"

"Such bliss," was all I could mutter in my sleep-deprived state as we both fumbled about to eat out kip   er, kit   and got with it . . . to the winery. (My gastrointestinal tract really, really cannot handle an assault of biodegradable mass so early in the morning . . . and mourn indeed I did for lost sleep, and my paper and coffee or tea with my sweet Miss Helena.)

"Oh, don't be a lumpy toad and do be a love and put out the chairs 'round the tables," lovingly beseeched my Miss Helena. "And don't forget to put up thirty or so chairs over there where the band will be playing!"

I quickly complied, wanting to be one of the "team" putting on this pancake/jazz event at this beautiful winery in Sonoma County. I leapt into action only to find 25 boxes full of 8 "portable" wooden chairs apiece . . . 200 chairs in all, that I had to lift three feet vertically out of the cardboard confines of their hapless life-long cages of catering . . . and then carry them out into the big tent and place them all about. Of course the women placed them again, but that is no bother to me.

But there I was along with ten women or more doing this catering event. Manuel, the winery go-fer (if I may use a most distinctive American term) and my male workmate for the event, was late.

There were the four female cooks. Oh, most despondent and uncaring they looked. They cooked four experimental pancakes and threw them to the ducks, who had walked down from the winery's pond above.

The ducks wouldn't eat the pancakes, and looked up at me as if to say, "Where is the home-made Zinfandel syrup?" Oh, those ducks . . . but more about that later.

So the cooks puffed away on their cigarettes, sitting on a few of my folding chairs beneath the large sun umbrella I'd set up for them. "Oh, please, no 'thank you's' required."

I also put up two sun umbrellas for the band. When the four males arrived at 9 a.m., I was never gladder to see jazz musicians, or any musicians, for that matter   although, since they were sober, awake, and vertical at 9 a.m., I had to wonder if they were really jazzmen at all.

Fortunately they were excellent manipulators of their instruments, and soon enough the four-piece band of bass, drummer, piano, and trumpet player were playing great music in the open air and people were arriving and paying for their pancakes drenched in Zinfandel syrup . . . slathers of bacon, all kept warm in trays by cans of Sterno . . . and plates of fresh fruit on the side with the wonderful scones.

Oh, some of the customers made rude comments to me as I tried to light the propane heaters (they are tall contrivances that resemble the Martians in "War of the Worlds"). "Oh, yes, it helps to turn the gas on, young man, if you want it to work." (Well, thank you, Mother Teresa! I thought to myself.)

And of course there was a wine bar going all the time . . . sure, flapjacks, Zinfandel syrup, a strip or four of bacon, a plate of fruit, a scone or two, a cup of coffee, and two or three glasses of wine . . . as the jazz band plays classics at 10 a.m. in the wine country . . . a perfect breakfast. The ducks came down and sat under the chairs watching the band. True jazz aficionados, they ignored the pancakes, even though I'd dripped some syrup on them (the pancakes, not the ducks).

All too soon it was time to end the wonderful event. The tables were cleaned. The chairs were put back in their boxes ( . . . oh, the agony, the horror . . .), the band packed up their instruments . . . the wine bottles were put away . . . the coffee was given to the ducks. The bacon was taken home by the cook for her BLT cart/stand on the square in Healdsburg . . . the fruit became a pasty mess in the kitchen at the winery . . . and my back still hurts. . . .

But anything for a gastronomical adventure for the readers of Jack Burton's wonderful newsletter!

I did try to find out the recipes for the pancakes and Zinfandel syrup. Alas, my question to the cook with the cigarette hanging from her lower lip was met by a growl and glower. Olga, who made the syrup and is from somewhere in the Alps, shouted "Nein! Nein! Nein!"

Well, next week, fellow readers, I am off to a Veterans of Foreign Wars' Father's Day Pancake and Gin Fizz Breakfast. I am in training, and hopefully you will get a full report soon . . . .

Meanwhile, I remain,

Faithfully yours,

Morris Pishpot