hired to be fired

George Karn played some hockey in his day, for a scattering of Minnesota minor-league teams in the 1950s, Jerseys and Millers and Saints. As a commercial cartoonist, he’s claimed by history for having created what the Vintage Minnesota Hockey Hall of Fame (of which he’s an honoured member) calls cereal icons: the Trix rabbit, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and Count Chocula. When the Minnesota North Stars joined the NHL in 1967, the team looked to Karn to design both the starred N logo they proudly wore and the uniforms it adorned. In 1969, he added My Very Own Hockey Colouring Book to his oeuvre. Handed out for free to prospective Minnesota ticket-buyers, the 30-page pamphlet goes for the broad and occasionally bawdy laughs and maybe it got some of those, in 1969.

Featured here — no special reason, any resemblance to actual situations, living or dead, or real events that might or might not have unfolded this afternoon, is purely coincidental — Karn’s take on the changeable fortunes of hockey coaches.

“If you do not understand the game of ice hockey,” Karn wrote on the title page, “you will not understand this book. If you do understand the game of ice hockey, you will not understand this book. If you do understand this book … you need help.”

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.