The start to every visit home was the same. I pulled into my grandmother's driveway, trying to ignore the yappy shih tzu, Leo, jumping up and down on the patio screen. I went inside, through the sliding glass doors and into the kitchen where I pulled up a stool to the counter to sit and chat with my Mom Mom (pronounced Mum mum). I would make it through exactly 3 minutes of conversation before I started digging through the fridge to see if it was there.
I started with the cool whip containers....left over potato salad, left over succotash, left over ham...nope. I moved on to the smaller country crock butter containers...actual butter, another actual butter, pink butter cream, purple butter cream, I turned to notice the pink & purple cupcakes on the stovetop before reaching for the last three tubs way in the back of the fridge, with my grandma exclaiming "what are you looking for? you're not going to find it!."
But it was there. It was always there when I came home to visit. Three tubs of Lulu Paste were hidden in the back, on the bottom shelf of the fridge, disguised as 'buttery spread.'
She had to hide the tubs. If anyone else could see what was inside, it wouldn't still be waiting for my homecoming. My aunt would pounce on them and if she didn't, my cousin would. But they didn't find them, I did. I grabbed a sleeve of saltine crackers and started in on the first tub. As I was finishing the last of it, using my cracker to wipe the sidewalls of the container clean, my aunt walked in. "You little snot. You couldn't save any for anyone else?!?!"
I was told the recipe for Lulu Paste came from a local caterer for whom my mother worked when she was a teenager. As are most of my grandmother's recipes, it's delightfully American from the heyday of casseroles and potlucks. The cream cheese has to be taken out hours before starting the recipe, so it can soften. My grandmother would use her pairing knife to meticulously dice the green pepper (from her garden of course) and onion into the tiniest of cubes. To this day, after a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and years of dicing veggies professionally, I still can not replicate her cuts WITH A PAIRING KNIFE, nonetheless!
She cooked the eggs, vinegar & sugar on the stovetop, on direct heat, in a small sauce pot. When I make this recipe, I create a double boiler by putting a stainless steel bowl on top of a pot of simmering water. The egg mixture is whisked constantly until it starts to thicken. There is a very fine line between thick and scrambled. As soon as it is thick, remove it from the heat and add the oleo, or if you live in modern society, butter will do. If the mixture is still hot and the cream cheese is room temperature, it is possible to use a spatula to stir them together into a fluffy, creamy spread. If the cream cheese is straight from the fridge because you didn't decide to embark on this process until the last minute, dump everything into a kitchen aid mixer and beat the shit out of it with the paddle attachment until it is a fluffy, creamy spread. After either preparation method, use a spatula to fold in the pepper and onion.
The only way to achieve Lulu Paste perfection is to refrigerate it overnight. It will set hard and the juices from the onion and pepper will commingle with the cream to form a perfect union. I promise, it's worth the wait. Although, consuming the entire batch while it's still warm isn't the most terrible experience either.
I kept a notebook of my grandma's key recipes when I was in college. Lulu Paste was one of them. My notebook was packed away in a box at my father's house after I graduated. One day he called me and he sounded like the leprechaun who just found his pot of gold. He was gearing up to move, going through boxes and he unearthed my recipes. The secret to Lulu Paste was finally in his reach! It was one of his favorites too but after he and my mother divorced, when I was only a year old, he could only have what I managed to smuggle out of my grandmother's house.