Good Old-Fashioned Milk Toast
CASPER MILQUETOAST was a character in the cartoons of H.T. Webster - a long-suffering, mild, meek, hen-pecked man who never complained at the most preposterous abuses, a masculine Patient Griselda. I never understood why milk toast suggested this sort of person, because I liked milk toast and took all I could get. My mother would make it now and then for the family supper, thus saving on meat and potatoes, and it was delicious. When I left home to tackle college, I didn't get milk toast, and there was a dramatic re-introduction to it at the off-campus restaurant of Louis and Harry one evening while Gilman and I were absorbing atomic information as offered by that first authority, Lucretius.
Louis Zamanis was an Athenian and Argiris (Harry) Ariroulis was from Thessaly; they met for the first time aboard a boat going to Rio. That was a devious way in those days to get to the United States, and after they got to Maine, Harry worked for a time in a shoe factory and Louis barbered.
But when Greek meets Greek, they open a restaurant, and by the time I went to college they had a cozy place with 15 tables. Good food at fair prices, and their combined affability, proved successful. The far table next to the kitchen had become a sort of student Stammtisch, and this was recognized to the extent that other customers left it to us.
Gilman and I would come early for supper and run over our Latin.
Another customer was Mary Leo, who was the town's police matron. We knew who Mary was, but not officially, and when she came in to sit at the opposite corner table she and we would nod and smile, but otherwise we kept our distances. So as Gilman and I were learning how the atoms swerve, we heard Mary talking to Louis, who had come from the kitchen to take her order.
``What you have, Miz Mary?''
``Oh, I don't know, Louis - what do you think?''
``What you want, you say - I make.''
Then we heard Mary say, ``You know, Louis, I'd love to have a feed of good, old-fashioned, honest milk toast!''
Louis had never heard of milk toast, but Gilman and I looked at each other, and with common childhood recollections we both realized a feed of good, old-fashioned, honest milk toast would taste some old goo-ood.
``How you make it, tell me,'' said Louis.
Mary said, ``I don't rightly know, Louis. My mother made it, and I just ate it. I never made any.''
Gilman and I said, together and alike, ``I know how!''
The upshot was that Gilman and I, and Mary and Louis, gathered at the range in the kitchen, and Louis learned to make milk toast.
There isn't much to it, and if you look in a book such as Larousse you will be amused at the verbiage deployed - although the truth is that Larousse talks all around the subject and does not tell how to make simple milk toast.
My mother, of course, never heard the word roux, and wouldn't have known what it meant. As for b'echamel, she never heard that word either, and on the face of it would have dismissed b'echamel sauce as frivolous amusement for foreign chefs who never had to wash the pots and pans they dirtied. She did know about creamed codfish, but it had no French names that she knew of, and was favored in Nova Scotia on boiled potatoes. That roux and b'echamel were involved was beyond her control.
Mother started by slicing one or two loaves of her own bread and piling the slices on the shelf over the range. She made her own butter, so she melted enough and stirred in the flour. From that point on her left hand constantly stirred.
Her right hand would bring down a slice of bread, apply it to the top of the range, and turn it after it seared. There was no electricity involved in my mother's cookery. Think of that!
As toast accumulated, each slice golden beautiful, she added hot milk (from her own gentle Bossie) to her mixture. When a slice of toast was laid into a big vegetable serving dish, she covered it with her hot milk sauce, layer by layer, until she had two or three such dishes full and felt there was enough for 10 or 12 appetites.
Louis and Harry had the only restaurant I know of that offered real milk toast upon order. Louis made it just like my Mom's. About the Artist: Gregory Paquette works exclusively in charcoal, pencil, and cont'e crayon. He explores shape and composition with changes of texture and light, balancing line and tone.