My Aunt Naomi owned, at different times, at least two restaurants in Gloversville, NY decades ago. I don’t remember what the first one was called (any of my relatives recall?), but the second retained the name, I think, of the previous owner, Helen’s Lunch. I know it was located on Main Street, several blocks up from the downtown section. It was a big deal for me when I was old enough to walk it on my own from my Andrews’ relatives’ house. Probably the former name served well enough, since one of my aunt’s daughters was named Helen and she worked in the restaurant as well (along with her sisters, Snookie [Ruth] and Joan). There was no question that a big attractions at both eateries was Aunt Naomi’s hot dog sauce. People traveled from miles outside G-ville for those dogs, topped with mustard, onions and The Sauce – The Works!
My mother (Dolly) once told me that her sister learned how to make this meaty condiment from “an old Greek lady” but I’m not sure if the recipe was ever written down before I cornered Mom in my kitchen, in front of the stove, a note pad and pencil in my hands. My Aunt Naomi (the sister with whom she felt closest, despite a 13-year difference in ages) taught Mom how to cook up the sauce, and for years we enjoyed it whenever Dolly made a batch. Mom would whip up a potful for a picnic and bring along a couple small-portioned, frozen containers’ worth, so we could pull them out of the freezer at a later date for eager consumption. At one time, the stuff was even bottled for commercial sale, but it was the late 60s and opportunities for widespread advertisements weren’t as wide and diverse as they are now, what with Facebook, blogs, Twitter and more. It had a small, loyal, local following (my dad even sold it in his tiny, corner grocery store on Second Avenue in the South End of Albany), but it certainly didn’t earn my relatives a fortune. I think the enterprise came to a close when Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley pulled up roots and moved to Arizona, where they remained for several years.
I picture Dolly standing beside Naomi in front of a stove in their more youthful times, pretty much the same as when I was wresting details of the recipe from my mother decades later. But I don’t think Mom would be writing anything down, unlike me, who grabbed her hand occasionally to stop her from dumping an ingredient in the pot – so I could measure it. My mother cooked by “feel” and experience, as many home cooks did and still do. She’d witnessed her sister’s cooking for years, having spent lots of her childhood and teen years in Gloversville at the Andrews home. In fact, her eldest niece by Aunt Naomi was only five years younger than she was – so in some ways, Naomi was a bit of a mother figure.
All her later life, Mom fantasized about living in Gloversville, but it never happened. Still, at least one week of each summer was spent with Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley, and I loved it. I loved the food: delicious, basic food to fill the tummy. I loved the company. And, for a kid, it felt special that my aunt ran a restaurant!
Whenever I pull together a “cauldron” full of Aunt Naomi’s Hot Dog Sauce, I tend to double the recipe that you’ll find below. Like Mom, I want to ensure there’s sauce for another time or two. Small portions freeze well, which is the way to go so you can boil, fry or grill up just a few frankfurters and not worry about whether or not you’ll use the rest up before it sits in the fridge too long (Bill says I should work for the FDA [federal Food and Drug Administration] since I take seriously all those warnings about how long one should hold on to leftovers!). While Bill could eat hot dogs several times a week (especially the all-beef variety), I cannot; ergo, the freezer strategy. All in all, I prefer those small portions because I think of hot dogs with this special sauce as a treat, not something included weekly in a balanced diet.
The reason I decided to give priority to creating a blogpost centered on this recipe, rather than the at-least-a-half-dozen other posts for which I’ve taken recent pictures, is because hubby Bill remarked to me last week, “I’m in the mood for hot dogs. How about it?” When I suggested that, if he waited just a few days, there could be some of this sauce to add to his mustard and onions, there was no question that I’d better get to it soon.
I made almost double this recipe but, unfortunately, discovered I didn’t have as much paprika as I’d thought. Checking the spice rack, I found almost a whole container of Smoked Paprika, which I subbed for close to half of the regular spice. Tasting it, I noted the difference and – to balance out to what I thought would be closer to my aunt’s sauce, or at least cover some of the “smoked” flavor – I then added about a tablespoon of garlic paste (from one of those tubes now available in the produce section of many large grocery stores). For me, this almost made up for the difference in taste resulting from the substitute. (I’m not a fan of smoked spices, but perhaps you’d like it better.) As for my husband, he thought it was great, true to what he’d tasted when Mom made it (he never got a chance to sample Aunt Naomi’s). Go figure.
Something to remember: Mom always emphasized that the “secret” to this recipe was to keep mashing down the meat until it was fine in texture. She said this allowed the flavor of the spices to really soak in, for all the flavors to meld together. I’ve used a masher, but a metal spatula or chopper does the job best.
AUNT NAOMI’S/MOM’S HOT DOG SAUCE
Yield: enough to top a couple dozen franks, or probably more, depending upon how much you heap on!
- 1 to 1½ lbs. ground beef
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon paprika
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon chili powder
- water, to cover from start of cooking
1. Sauté onion in oil in a large saucepan until just turning translucent.
2. Add ground beef and fry until browned, continuously mashing beef to break it down to a fine texture.
3. Add paprika and chili powder, stirring in thoroughly.
4. Add water to cover beef mixture and to about 1 inch above.
5. Simmer sauce for 1 to 1½ hour, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is cooked away. (I continue to mash the beef up occasionally during this stage too.) If you prefer the sauce to be spicier, add a little more chili powder before simmering is finished.
6. Serve on hot dogs in buns. (I prefer New England style buns, toasted on both sides.) Tastes especially good with mustard and, if you like them, chopped onions (I don’t do raw onions – migraine trigger!).
7. If you choose to freeze in small amounts, reheat later by adding a small amount of water to the pan with the frozen block of sauce. It’ll cook down/heat up well.