Food memories: Fenway Park

I pretty much grew up in Fenway Park; at least it felt that way (for my mother, baseball was holy; when she retired, she moved to Arizona, and attended all the Spring-training games she could, happily extending the season). Early every Spring, my mother would get the advance schedule of Red Sox home games, and we’d sit at the kitchen table plotting our Summer, picking our way through weekend and night games with our favorite enemies (the Yankees were top of the list, of course). When those chosen days came, we’d go downtown and board a bus for the 50-mile ride straight to Fenway in Boston, loaded with other baseball fans, chattering madly.
Day or night, the first step in the ritual, even before we bought a program, was to get a hot dog, dribble mustard over it (never ketchup!), and then pack in spoonfuls of sweet relish. The mustard was the bright yellow kind we knew as “ballpark
mustard,” bright, light, and especially tangy. Peanuts kept us going during the game, and another hot dog during the seventh-inning stretch was mandatory.

I took my son back to Boston, and to Fenway Park, this past Summer, a longer trip than my former bus rides, and a long stretch of memory lane too. Nothing much had changed, except that we had better seats than mom had been able to afford: the organ boomed out the same old songs, celebrities in the audience were called out by the announcer, and the hot dogs were delicious, the best ever. After a couple of decades of using European-style, grown-up Dijon mustard, the ballpark mustard was a revelation, an instant portal to the past, lively, fresh, and nicely biting. My son, who hates the other stuff, thought it was terrific, but then combining it with the sweet relish was, he thought, about the best idea anybody’s ever had.
Now, back home, we have a big squeezy bottle of French’s “Classic American” yellow mustard in the fridge, right next to the Grey’s Poupon. Scoring that was easy, it’s in most supermarkets, but I couldn’t find sweet relish anywhere, and lately read in the New York Times that it’s on the decline; hardly anyone makes it any more. I’ve ordered a stash on the internet--expensive, but then, what’s your childhood worth? (Besides, it’s the only way he’ll eat hot dogs now.)

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