Cooking: Mariner’s Sauce

I’ve been doing some cleanup around the apartment during this Holy Weekend, and among the things I found was my grandfather’s recipe for Mariner’s sauce, or marinara.  My grandfather was a sailor, a chemist, a scientist, a navigator, and a talented cook. His neighbors thought he was a CIA operative, because he was so urbane and sophisticated, and regularly spent time in Saudi Arabia or Lebanon or France or California or Texas.  He invented some of the earliest filters and scrubbers for the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants, and the royalties from those patents allegedly paid for his retirement for many years.  He worked for multimillionaire oil barons in the 1940s and 1950s, brewed explosive formulas for the World War bomb factories before that, and identified aspirin as a potential wonder-drug to his daughters in the early 1960s. 

Grandfather gave me this recipe for my birthday one year.  It’s the wrong time of year for tomatoes of the kind he used, which were huge beefsteaks that came from his own garden. But at the time that he gave me the recipe, I was unable to take full advantage of it.  I was in the middle of moving, I was stressed about finding a job and was unemployed at the time, and slowing down enough to learn how to cook was not high on my agenda.

making grandfather’s marinara

Some of my readers are familiar with the Ba Gua diagram of feng shui. The Ba Gua in its simplest form is a diagram of a three by three grid placed over a house, or a room.  Each square represents an aspect of a person’s life — if you want better job prospects, clean the bathroom — because the career square of the bagua diagram happens to align with the bathroom. The diagram nests, too…  If you want your new job to be amicable to your relationship with your spouse, overlay the diagram over the bathroom like a map, and see that you should rearrange the linen closet off the bathroom.

It’s telling that I found the recipe for marinara while cleaning the “ancestors” portion of my office, which is itself in the career part of the house.  So here I am, making “career advancement marinara” on Easter evening.  My grandfather loved hosting celebrations on Easter because us grandkids would run around in the yard looking for eggs, that we had painted ourselves, he didn’t have to buy presents, there was always good food and good wine, and there would be a walk to the beach and the docks after dinner, and a bit of star-gazing in anticipation of the coming sailing season. He never sailed out of sight of land, that I knew of, but he liked getting out the sextant and calculating his position based on several different stars, and he liked that he knew the method of calculating longitude by Lunars like his fictional hero, Horatio Hornblower.

But ancestral recipes for men going down to the sea in ships for their fortunes don’t work for finding landlubber jobs, and they don’t find ordinary work.

Dear Andrew:

Subject: Mariner Sauce

I suppose “mariner” or “marinara” sauces appear in 50 variations in U.S. and Europe and wherever tomatoes grow. Canned “marinara” is never in my experience very good although usually very complicated.  I make it about as follows for say one quart:

Sauté 2 cloves garlic in good olive oil (Extra Virgin) — about four table spoons of it, until garlic is translucent as the cookbooks have it.  Add four large tomatoes, ripe, peeled and cut in 12 pieces.  Add one cupful each of sweet basil (fresh) and parsley cut in 1/2 inch pieces.  “cupful” means of the 1/2 inch pieces. That is plenty of basil and parsley. Salt and pepper.  Bring to gentle boil, cook 5 minutes or so.        (over)

until tomatoes are soft but not totally disintegrated.  Best if cooked overnight and reheated to simmer.

(Note) Tomatoes can secrete botulism spores, rarely but has happened. Said spores will not elaborate toxin in mixtures less acidic than 4 pH. Addition to sauce of 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid powder (get from me) will assure enough acidity.

Happy Birthday & Best Regards, JB.

And there you have it, the marinara of the man who said the best movie he’d ever seen, and the funniest, was Gone With The Wind, dubbed in French and subtitled in Arabic, shown in a side-stree movie theater filled with weeping couples forty yards from the Mediterranean in Beruit.

You never know where life will take you.  Make sure you have the right sauce to set your sails by.  And avoid botulism.

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  1. Your grandfather sounds like an amazing fellow.

    His work on smokestack air scrubbers piqued my interest. My dad did work on air quality & pollution for the EPA in the ’80s. Among other things, it had him climbing into smokestacks a few times to collect samples of particulate matter, and he also holds a couple of patents for scrubbers. I would bet he’s familiar with your grandfather’s work.

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