gump worsley’s pineapple squares

I don’t have a whole lot to say about hockey-player cookbooks, other than this: Borje Salming’s Grilled Moose with Whey Butter Sauce does sound delicious.

I guess I could venture further that, of all the volumes I’ve gathered on the surprisingly crowded shelf I’ve reserved for the books of hockey’s recipes, Grilling With Salming (2010) is easily the most appetizing. Borje thoroughly loves grilling (as he confesses on page three) and (as he makes clear in the book’s 11-page hockey/culinary introduction) he’s actually a bit of a whiz at it. It doesn’t feel like a novelty act: it’s too heartfelt for that. The photographs (by Bruno Ehrs) are incredible, too, and even if you don’t get around to cooking Salming’s Herb-Stuffed Trout, I do recommend that you put some time in, as I have done, staring at its portrait on page 33.

In endorsing Salming, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on anyone else’s kitchen credentials. Several NHL teams made a habit in the 1980s and ’90s of compiling collections of player-recommended recipes to raise funds for good community causes. The Jets Are Cookin’ from 1983, for instance, offers up Moe Mantha’s Filet of Sole with Shrimp Sauce alongside Dave Babych’s Broccoli Casserole. Paul Coffey’s Meatloaf might be a meal you’ll serve some future spring to celebrate Edmonton’s return to the playoffs, unless it’s Wayne Gretzky’s Stir-Fry Beef With Tomatoes: either way, the plain cerlox-bound pages of Oilers Favourite Recipes (1981) have what you’re looking for.

Can I recommend Mark Messier’s Carrot Cake, from that same volume? I can’t, not in good conscience. How do I know that the 20-year-old budding superstar actually reached into his very own recipe-box to contribute what we’re seeing here? I don’t. That may be the Messier signature at the bottom of the page, but can all that precedes it really be Mark’s own? The instructions for making the icing, for instance. “Cream well,” the soon-to-be-50-goal-scorer advises, “mix in icing sugar until stiff for icing. Sprinkle with coconut if desired.”

I have no such doubts about Gump Worsley’s Pineapple Squares. On this, the 90th anniversary of his birth, it’s high time we amplified the word that one of hockey’s greatest goaltenders was also a master of desserts.

Fans of They Call Me Gump remember— how could they forget? — that while the 1975 autobiography Worsley wrote with an assist from Tim Moriarty is mostly a tale of hockey trial and tribulation, it also includes chapter called (pointedly) “My Pineapple Squares.”

It’s but brief, a page-and-a-half, and gets right to the point. “My hobby,” Worsley declares, “is baking pastries: pies, cakes, cookies.” The titular squares whose recipe soon follows are a favourite, he divulges, along with his wife’s name for them: to Doreen, he says, they were only ever Gumpies.

It’s been years since I first read that passage and, over the page, the list of ingredients and how to render them. As much as I respect Worsley’s devotion and any work of literature that finds room for a recipe, I admit that I’ve never yet followed Worsley’s lead in the kitchen — but that’s really a pineapple issue more than anything else.

What I can report is that new research reveals that before it appeared between hard covers, Worsley’s recipe made its public debut in March of 1974 in The Minneapolis Star. Worsley was 44 that year, tending the North Stars’ nets in his final NHL season along with Cesare Maniago and Fern Rivard.

Beth Anderson wrote the Star’s foodie feature that appeared under the headline “Some North Stars Know The Kitchen Isn’t Penalty Box.” North Stars’ centre Murray Oliver is first up, contributing a pair of recipes, for Marinated Steak and Toronto Garlic Chicken Breasts.

The Olivers, we learn, like to cook with friends; when its chicken on the menu, the “you can smell the garlic cooking all over the house,” though “the final taste is not too much.”

When it comes to introducing Worsley and his baked goodness, the shrift is much shorter: “He said he has served them to a lot of hockey players and takes them anywhere there is a party.” The recipe, for scholars of these things, varies from the one in They Call Me Gump in only a single detail: both call for crushed pineapple, but  the newspaper also wants it “well-drained.”

Other than that, what’s important is the illustration, reproduced above: the first known (and maybe only?) photograph of Gump’s peerless Pineapple Squares.

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They’re just a few of them, Canadians we feel we know so well (and maybe even revere) that just the one name will do. Most of them are singers, Drake and Shania, Joni, Neil, Leonard, though we also have a prime minister now, Justin, with whom we’re first-name familiar. Hockey has Gordie, Wayne, Mario, Sid — and now I guess Connor, too.

Also? Gump.

That one is an older vintage, and maybe doesn’t have the currency it once did. Still, it does retain a certain power, as a byword for the audacity and sheer foolery of old-time NHL goaltenders, one that conveys not only the awkward dignity of the man himself but also the fall-down, scrambling valor of a whole nervy puckstopping generation of maskless men, long before Tom Hanks was cast in the role of a slow-wit hero from Alabama.

Not that the surname isn’t just as good as the first: Worsley is Dickensian in its perfection, up there with Gradgrind, Cheeryble, Pickwick, Pecksniff. Paired, Gump Worsley not only sounds like a character from a story, one from whom you could figure out the gist of the plot just by looking at the man: oh, yes, right, so this is the one about the kind-hearted London orphan, bit of a sad case, all alone in the world, at the behest of his anonymous benefactor, without any training or apparent aptitude, has to take up goaltending in the six-team National Hockey League in order to prove himself and find his destiny.

John K. Samson once told me he carried a glorious old Gump-faced hockey card with him wherever he went. We were talking at the time about Reggie Leach, Riverton’s own Rifle, but then the talk turned as the Winnipeg singer explained that a lot of his admiration for Gump was based, like mine, on just how unlikely a goaltender he seemed, accidental, almost, and how amiably he seemed to bearing up in the situation into which he’d been thrust.

That’s in the song Samson wrote, of course, “Elegy for Gump Worsley,” that he sang with his erstwhile band, The Weakerthans. The words go like this:

He looked more like our fathers, not a goalie, player, athlete period. Smoke, half ash, stuck in that permanent smirk, tugging jersey around the beergut, “I’m strictly a whiskey man” was one of the sticks he taped up and gave to a nation of pudgy boys in beverage rooms. Favourites from Plimpton’s list of objects thrown by Rangers fans: soup cans, a persimmon, eggs, a folding chair and a dead rabbit. The nervous breakdown of ’68-’69 after pant-crap flights from LA, the expansion, “the shrink told me to change occupations. I had to forget it.” He swore he was never afraid of the puck. We believe him. If anyone asks, the inscription should read, “My face was my mask.”

He played 21 years in the NHL, mostly for the New York Rangers, most successfully for Montreal, finally for the Minnesota North Stars. He died at the age of 77 in 2007.

It’s possible that I saw him play, later on in his career, staying up late to watch Hockey Night In Canada in the early ’70s. If so, I don’t remember. I loved his memoir, They Call Me Gump (1975), which he wrote with Tim Moriarty’s aid, and not just because he devotes Chapter 21 to his recipe for pineapple squares. Okay, well, yes, that’s where a lot of the love is centred. Also with his affable way of looking at the world, and that if there’s a joke in his playing NHL goal, then it’s a joke he’s very much in on, and enjoying as much as the rest of us.

If Gump looked helpless, if he seemed hapless, well, of course, he was anything but. You don’t need to go and stand in front of his plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame (elected in 1980) to know that he was one of the best of his era. Traded to Montreal for Jacques Plante, he went on to play his part in four Stanley Cup championships. He was a First All-Star Team and twice had a share (with Charlie Hodge and Rogie Vachon, respectively) in a Vézina Trophy. Of all the goaltenders to have defended NHL nets, he stands 22nd when it comes to regular-season wins (335). He had 40 more in the playoffs, which is more than Johnny Bower and Bernie Parent and lots of other Brahmins of the crease.

I don’t know where he slots in when it comes to the all-time index of pain and suffering. In his book, he mostly makes light of the wear and tear of being worn and torn. “The main occupational hazard is trying to stay alive while facing up to 40 and 50 shots a game,” he writes. “We’re not well, you know,” he says elsewhere, “or we wouldn’t be playing the position.” And: “It helps to be nuts.” If he were in the business of hiring goaltenders, his prerequisites would include “a hard skull to deflect flying pucks, plus a thick skin to absorb the abuse of coaches and fans.”

Like a lot of hockey memoirs, They Call Me Gump reads like a medical file. It’s longtime Ranger physician Dr. Kazuo Yanagisawa attending, mostly, dropping in every few pages to consult on the tendons in Gump’s hand that Bobby Hull’s skate severed, or to remove cartilage from his knee. Gump pulls hamstrings, tears thigh muscles, sprains knees. He devotes another entire chapter (without going too deep) to the stress and fear of flying that fuelled the nervous breakdown he suffered in 1968.

The injuries would have contributed to that, too, though Gump doesn’t really make much of the connection. For all the damage he chronicles, there’s relatively little mention of concussions. One that features is famous in its way — a “mild” one that knocked him out of a 1967 game at Madison Square Garden when he was back in playing for Montreal. Others he leaves out entirely or tosses in with what passes for trouperly bravado:

[Boom-Boom] Geoffrion hit me right between the eyes with a slapshot in the Forum one night, and the puck ricocheted 40 rows into the stands.

Gump finally put on a mask in 1974, but only for the last six games of his career. “Hated it,” he said in 1984, looking back. “Sure I got knocked out a lot. I got knocked out oftener than Joe Palooka. But there was only one goalie to a team at that time, so they’d revive you and sew you up and you went back on.”

That’s all in keeping, I guess, with hockey’s historical nonchalance when it comes to head injuries. Getting your bell proverbially rung was just part of the game; you shook it off, headed back out on the ice. Knowing what we know now about head trauma and the long-time devastation of CTE casts a grim shade on those old attitudes, even as the modern-day NHL refuses to acknowledge the connections.

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Worsley Out: Montreal teammates Ted Harris and Bob Rousseau aid training staff in getting Gump off the ice in Chicago in April of 1968 after he hit his head on a goalpost.

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