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Red Flannel Hash


(This story appeared in the September 2009 issue of Word Catalyst Magazine)

Red Flannel Hash

The year was 1973, I was camping with a friend on the eastern side of the Kancamagus Highway in the late spring, and we had planned a week around climbing the trails on Mt Chocorua in the southern White Mountains. I was 23 years of age and had made my first visit to New Hampshire the previous year. We had a site with a picnic table and fire-ring in a small drive-in campground, and our poorly provisioned camp consisted of a tent, a cooler, a small charcoal grill, and the car. As I had no protective tarp over the table, we could not cook or prepare meals in the rain. When dawn broke wet and cold, we quickly hopped in the car and went in search of breakfast and coffee.

We stopped at a little restaurant near Conway that, judging from the number of cars parked in front, served a decent breakfast. We went in and sat at a small table. For the first time, I tasted red flannel hash, a type of corned beef hash made with chunks of sweet beets as well as potatoes. The dish was marvelous. On the plate, the hash did not evoke memories of the classic shirt that was its namesake, yet the taste was unique and gratifying. Hash and eggs, toast and coffee, this was a hot and hearty breakfast.

For several years, whenever I camped in the area, I made sure to drive into town and stop for breakfast and red flannel hash at the little restaurant near Conway. Eventually, I expanded my personal car-camping equipment to include a tarp and a camp stove. Once I could make good coffee and a hot breakfast at camp in any kind of weather, I saw no reason to travel into town.

I began to explore other areas of the North Country, and my camping locations became more varied as I pursued the goal of climbing all of the 4000-footers in the White Mountains. Over the years, this quest took to me to every corner of the mountain region, but corned beef hash remained a common breakfast at the campsite. Hash was a good one-pan meal, it was hot and satisfying, and this breakfast would carry a person through a long day of hiking. I would fry onion and green pepper in olive oil, and then add a can of corned beef hash to the pan and fry everything together. I would serve the hash with eggs and toasted bread or bagels. For some reason, though, I never picked up a can of beets to add to the mix.

Years went by before I tasted red flannel hash again. More than a decade later, in the late 1980s when I lived in southern New Hampshire, Jim Olkovikas and his wife Kathy made red flannel hash from scratch one night when I was at their home for dinner. Chunks of potato and beets, and large pieces of corned beef cut from the brisket, made up the hash. The aroma of the hash as it cooked reminded me of driving to Conway for breakfast on those long-ago mornings when I camped on the Kancamagus Highway in the 1970s. A glass of wine and some hot bread rounded out a fine repast, enjoyed in the company of close friends.

So tonight, on a rainy and cold California evening some thirty-five years after my first taste, I surprised my wife with the wonderful aroma and look of red flannel hash. I cut leftover rib-eye steak into small pieces and fried them in olive oil along with a boiled potato, onion, and a can of cut beets. I then added a can of corned beef hash to the pan and fried everything together. I cooked the hash until everything was hot throughout, and completed the dish by frying one side until crispy. I ladled the steaming hash onto our plates and served up the dish with a tossed green salad and crusty bread.

The red flannel hash was delicious, and for a few brief moments, the year was 1973 again and I was young and in New Hampshire and the best things in life were in front of me.


Laudizen King
Los Angeles
January 2008