Monday, September 12, 2016

Eating Habits

Back when I was on the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, some board members had a meet-and-greet cookout at a deer lodge way out in the boon docks and my wife and I were invited. The spacious well-furnished lodge was on the Bartholomew Bayou and rather difficult to get to. As soon as my wife and I arrived, we were offered liquid refreshment and they passed around a tray of hors d’oeuvres. These were little chunks of fried meat on toothpicks that tasted like fishy chicken. We both had several. Then, just before the main course, our host held up a huge rattlesnake skin and mirthfully announced that the meat of that creature had been our cordial repast. My wife and I looked at each other with that “Oh, well, the deed is done” look on our faces and moved forward to more familiar fare—rib eye steaks and baked potatoes.

I tell that story to assert that most of us like to know what it is we are eating before ingesting it. Sushi bars have all their fish, eels, squid, shrimp, etc. out there in plain view. That way you know what you are getting. Some people are squeamish about eating raw fish, but I imagine our ancestors did so a lot. I love that scene in Castaway in which Tom Hanks learns to spear fish and eat them still wiggling. Elia (Charles Lamb) wrote a piece on roasted pig in which he asserted that cooking came to be in this fashion: a man kept his pig in his house. His house burned to the ground. The man touched the hot pig in the ashes and put his fingers to his lips. Yum. Thus, cooking was born.

Historic Washington State Park had a week-long encampment and reenactment recently and those assembled tried their hardest to be authentic 19th Century soldiers. Some had live chickens in cages. I watched a bevy of them, who obviously had but little experience cleaning farm critters, preparing a big hen for the pot. It took a long time, and the carcass looked untidy as all get-out. I was told later that they were so hungry that they took the chicken up before it was well done and some got sick. I have a tendency to cook chicken to unsavory hardness on the grill. A well-done hamburger is one thing but a scorched chicken is quite another.

My Pop had strange tastes and I usually ate what he ate, be it tripe, raw oysters from the can, brains and eggs, dry salt meat, pickled pig’s feet or sardines. Tripe is cow stomach and Mother used to bread it and fry it. It smelled good cooking and I enjoyed eating it, though it was quite chewy. It took a while for me to develop a taste for raw oysters, but when I started adding Louisiana hot sauce like Pop, I managed well. Hog brains scrambled with eggs had a musky taste, but that just made the dry salt meat, the constant companion of that dish, taste better. Pickled pig’s feet, sardines and sharp cheddar with crackers were usually Sunday evening meals. Mother cooked a major lunch on Sunday, so we were on our own the rest of the day. Rarely there was some fried chicken left, but more often we had Pop’s exotic stuff. As far as I know, he never ate rattlesnake, though.

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