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Red or White
Upstate New Yorkers Tend to Relish Their Hometown Favorites

By Evelyn Bence
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Red or white? Red or white?"

That's the question my father would ask over and over at the barbecues he hosted every summer at the church in western New York where he was the pastor.

As far back as I can remember, I would ask for white -- hot dogs, that is.

During my childhood, Dad would invite three or four families to picnic on long wooden tables dragged up from the Sunday school basement. "Bring meat to grill and a dish to pass," he instructed. Almost everybody brought hot dogs.

He would lift the grilled (okay, charred) offerings off the charcoal fire -- one family's contribution now indistinguishable from another's. Then he would walk up and down along the tables, asking each guest to choose -- a red dog or a white one.

While the rest of the country roasted traditional red beef hot dogs, Rochester, N.Y., with a significant German community, served up a second option: white and porky. They were produced and marketed along the southern rim of Lake Ontario. They've been featured in "Real American Food," a 1986 book on regional food by Jane and Michael Stern. They are sold hot with mustard at the stadium of the Rochester Red Wings, a Minnesota Twins Class AAA affiliate. You can buy hots by the pound packed in dry ice at the Rochester airport. And now they're available in Northern Virginia, along the back wall of Wegmans, the grocery chain anchored in western New York.

One octogenarian family friend says that whites taste the same as reds, but I think her taste buds have worn out. (If she were a drinking woman, she might similarly claim that white wine tastes like red.) Compared with reds, white hot dogs aren't smoke-flavored and aren't as sweet or spicy. Instead, they seem richer, deeper, closer to the earth. Compared with bratwurst, white hot dogs are smooth on the tongue and mild in taste.

In the dairy section of the Fairfax Wegmans I found two brands: the house brand and Zweigle's, a Rochester family-owned company that boasts of "quality since 1880." Both companies market precooked white hots wrapped in "natural" sausage casing and a gentler "skinless" variety, which is the one I prefer. The first four ingredients for both brands are "pork, water, beef, veal." Wegmans whites are labeled "bockwurst style" and there's a dumpling quality to their texture. The Zweigle's hots, parenthetically called "cooked sausage," are firmer and have a peppery kick.

I favor Wegmans. My neighbor votes for Zweigle's. If you want a sampler, Wegmans offers a pound package containing four reds and four (skinless) whites. The deli department sells something called a "snappy" that looks like a white hot dog. Well, they might be in the ballpark, but they don't score with my nostalgic memory. Maybe it's because they're made in Syracuse.

As the cooking directions suggest, New York natives generally grill or pan-fry their hot dogs and serve them up in buns, slathered with ketchup and mustard. But white hots are as versatile as reds and can be baked into beans, wrapped in biscuit blankets, topped with sauerkraut, boiled in beer, even drizzled with maple syrup.

Here are two ways to sauce them. The avocado recipe is relatively new. The warm sauce, made with ketchup and mustard, is my mother's recipe that I still make today.

Evelyn Bence's family essays have appeared in Style Plus and national magazines.

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