Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eating

Eating

Eating is a dying art in America. In isolated districts, connected with the world that dines by R.F.D., it still survives. Everywhere else eating is giving way to dining.

The sheer joy of lying in a cave and gnawing a bone has departed forever. "Mother" no longer can tip back her chair from the breakfast table, reach into the oven, draw out a smoking corn pone, and pour tree molasses over it, without causing shame to the girls. "Father" is no longer permitted to grab a roasting ear with both hands and pull it into his face until it touches his ears. Salt rising and dumplings have given way to tessellated floors and Chopin nocturnes.

Within another generation all traces of the appetites that conquered the wilderness will have disappeared. No one will eat; all will dine. For that reason I wish to place on record this study of contemporaneous eating and cooking that the mouth of future America may water in recalling lost joys.


A few days ago I accepted an invitation to lunch with the heir of one of Chicago's packers. We sat in the softened, mellowed light of an orchid-laden lunch room of a hotel. He ordered.

"Louis," he said, after examining the menu languorously. "A small portion of the clear soup, and please have Adolph brush the edge of the cups with a sprig of garlic. He forgot it yesterday.

"And, Louis, a trifle of the goose liver. Please serve it on the inside leaves of the head lettuce. A salad of pimento and grapefruit, Louis. I shall make the dressing. Please bring me my own oil and a box of chili pepper. The flavor of that which the serve here is much inferior, so I import my own oil and chili," he explained to me.

He concluded the order after some criticism and effort and turned to me: "I'm beastly hungry, old Top," he remarked. "I've really a vulgar appetite. I've gone in heavy for physical culture, you know, and I eat like a harvest hand."

Th point of this story is I was a friend of his grandfather. I used to see him in the cattle pens at the yards at 4 a.m., jabbing his thumbs into the ribs of steers, wading through the mire, and bidding lustily. About 7 a.m., when he had bid in enough beef for the day's kill, he walked over to Gleim's sausage factory, went into the vat room, slammed the door and yelled: "Gosh, but I'm hungry Looie. Got anything to eat? here, throw four or five pounds of these hot dogs into the water. Is the coffee boiling?

"Say, Looie, toss me a chunk of the punk, I want to sop up some of this gravy while I'm waiting."

And he and Looie, the boss sausage-maker, would eat five pounds of "red-hots" and the gravy sopped up with bread, drink a half gallon of scalding coffee and discuss the market. He lived to be seventy-two. His grandson will die before he is thirty-five.

This case revealed poignantly the rapid degeneracy of the art of eating in America. One generation from shoveling in hot dog and pork with a knife, to dallying with a pate of snail with a golden fork.

It has been my fortune to eat several trails across the North American continent. I have taken gastronomic tours from the sundab of California to the huckleberry pie of Maine; from the Bayou Cocque oyster to the Malmoot of the Yukon; from the foodless dinners of New York's French restaurants to the husk-clad tamale and ripe olive of San Francisco; from the humble frijole of Mexico to the baked muskellunge of the Flambeau.

Nor have I always eaten on a full pocketbook. Many time appetite has been forced to wait upon cash or credit. I spent one winter on the Barbary Coast in 'Frisco, the daily ration being two tamales and a quart of "dago red"; total cost fifteen cents. This should qualify me to write with authority. This is intended as a scientific and accurate treatise on eating, with a review of contemporaneous dietetics in America and addenda, showing what is good to eat and where it is obtainable.

Eating, as my friend Danny Taylor remarked, as he dropped an ounce of red pepper into a pan filled with water and jerked beef, is largely a matter of taste. Theoretically food should be nutritious, although this is secondary in importance. If nutrition were the chief part of eating we, as a nation, would follow the example of the Chinese, reduce cookery to an exact science, and eat dishes which contain the most nutrition at the lowest cost. We would thus adopt Philadelphia scrapple as the American chop suey, and do away with all discussion of the cost of living.

Philadelphia scrapple is our one cosmopolitan dish. It may be made of anything. On one occasion Morgan and I came over the Rondry Trail into Forty Mile Valley. We were down to moss and filet of rubber boot, both containing some nutriment and much taste. Indeed fricassee of rubber boot sole de la Morgan, as prepared that day, was delicious. Having dines sumptuously, we pressed on, and at night came upon the shack of Ben, a Siwash packer, and rolled against his stove to thaw out while he prepared supper. This was his recipe: One pound, or thereabouts, jerked beef; portion of Teetli, his lead dog, who had been killed in a fight with the rest of the team; part of a can of frozen salmon; two handfuls of willow shoots; a handful of moss roots, partly washed; unidentified something scraped out of pan. Directions: Add snow water, put on fire in iron pot; boil until guests are thawed out, and serve. Morgan, who had a rather delicate taste for that region, asked Ben what the dish was called. Rather gingerly he tasted it, made a face, and said: "Whatinblazesisthis?" "Sippy tun lakki," answered Ben, which, being translated, meant "Philadelphia scrapple."

The bliss of ignorance and the folly of wisdom are doubled when one inquires what he is eating. In the first place, it is none of his business. It tastes good; it nourishes. That is sufficient. To investigate further is wantonly risking disenchantment.

The other day, while collecting data for this article, I read a cook book. If there is one worthless thing under the sun it is a cookbook. I wanted to know how to make burgoo, Kentucky style. I read the recipe. At the bottom it said; "This will make 120 gallons of excellent burgoo." Not being that hungry, I broiled a steak. One cannot learn cooking from cook books any more than one can learn woodcraft from books printed on wood pulp paper. Either one must be born a cook, or study cooking at first hand. My system is to go into the kitchen and see how it is done. The best cooks cannot tell how they make anything. They have to show you. Willing? I should say they are. This talk about not wanting you in the kitchen is foolish. The greatest flattery anyone can offer a really good cook is to inquire how he makes a certain dish.



Originally published in The American Magazine, April 1911,
Written by Hugh S. Fullerton.


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