Sometimes words can paint a picture so enticing it's hard to ignore.
That was the case with George Duffy, of Somers Point, who 40 years ago heard a recipe on the radio that sounded so good, he knew he had to try it when he got home.
The dish turned out as good as Duffy imagined it would - so good in fact that now not a holiday or other special occasion goes by when friends don't ask the retired licensed mechanical engineer to make the dessert.
"It's a light type of dessert. It's good after you have had a large, filling meal," Duffy said, trying to explain why people love his mandarin orange dish so much. "Everyone who tries it, they want it all the time. They are like, 'When are you going to make it?'"
The dessert is one of the few dishes Duffy likes to make in the kitchen. A father of four, grandfather of seven and great-grandad for four, Duffy is more comfortable preparing meals on the grill than standing at a kitchen stove. But a knack for experimenting on the grill meant, for many years, the now 80-year-old widower was also responsible for preparing the holiday turkey.
That's because Duffy developed a secret for serving up the juiciest turkey anyone in his family ever had.
Back then Duffy's wife, Barbara, did most of the cooking for the family.
"I'm not really big into it. She was a good cook. I usually left the cooking up to her," Duffy said.
But one day, somebody recommended Duffy try preparing duck. As it was cooking, he saw the amount of drippings produced by the bird and had an epiphany.
"I was like, 'Look at the nice juices coming off that duck. Maybe I should baste the turkey with the juices,'" he said.
So, when the holidays rolled around, Duffy would have a turkey in the oven, a duck on the grill and lots of melted fat to baste the holiday bird.
"It really makes the turkey pretty moist and extra flavorful," Duffy said. "We would also serve the duck, but there's not a lot of meat on a duck."
Duffy is a 1950 graduate of Ocean City High School. His parents came from Germany, but he was orphaned at age 12. He was in a variety of foster homes. There was talk of sending the boy to live in Germany - an option he was not happy about - when Catholic Charities placed him with Esther and Neil Duffy. He lived with the couple through high school, eventually taking their last name.
Duffy served in the Air Force, attended Temple University and then started a career as a registered mechanical engineer. He worked at several large companies before starting his own business.
"I saw how much money I made for them, and I said, 'Well, maybe I should go to work for myself' - which I did," he said.
He named the company Willer Associates Incorporated - using his birth name in the company title.
These days, Duffy works part-time doing homeowners and flood insurance inspections.
" I've been doing a lot of running around recently," he said in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
But even with all the extra work, Duffy made sure to have his signature dessert ready when he departed for Thanksgiving dinner. He'll do the same for Christmas.
"My kids and my friends who have come for dinner, if they've had this, that is what they want for dessert," Duffy said. "They'd rather have it than a piece of pie or ice cream. So I make sure to make it for them."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Mandarin Orange Dessert
•2 15-ounce cans mandarin oranges
•1/4 cup brandy (optional)
•1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
•1 teaspoon sugar
•4- to 8-ounce jar of macadamia nuts
Drain the oranges and place them in a glass bowl. Add the brandy. Chill in the refrigerator for two hours. Whip the cream with sugar until it peaks. Crush a portion of the nuts. Put the oranges in a small dessert dish and top with whipped cream and crushed nuts.