Sherm serves up an unforgettable surprise

As the residents of our happy home for hapless has-beens assembled for our evening meal, we were told that our director of dining services had resigned. We heard she couldn't stand the food here any longer. I, in particular, was disappointed to hear this, since I had asked her how she keeps the soup so cool on hot days, and she had not replied.

Meantime, I asked our young waitress if she had plans for further education. (She will graduate from high school in the next class.) She said yes, that she will enter the university to study the culinary arts. I said, "The whats?"

In the good old days of Maine lumber camps, there were two kinds of cooks to be avoided. They were the sizzlers and the boilers. As a man matured at the trade, he'd become a good cook, or he'd be labeled a sizzler or boiler, and good choppers would try to find work someplace else.

The sizzler fried everything, and the boiler boiled it. Lumber camps that got stuck with sizzlers and boilers soon ran out of choppers. Frustrated employment managers promoted sizzlers and boilers to be scalers, dam tenders, sawdust sorters, and anything that was far from the cook shack. Now that I can't cut much timber, I find the big difference in a kitchen depends on being a cook versus being "a student of the culinary arts."

Herewith a parable: Gerald Lewis and his brother (a game warden) were angling at Kibby Stream one forenoon in anticipation of a noon-tide trout chowder, and were finding the trout cooperative. This pleased them, because Kibby Stream is a tributary of Spencer Stream, and Spencer Stream flows into Joe Pokum Bog, and that wilderness drainage was the only place in Maine where you could still take true native trout. In all other watersheds there had been some stocking from hatcheries.

But, as it happened, they didn't make that chowder, because of the hospitality of Sherman Osgood. Mr. Osgood was an odd one who lived alone in a small camp at Spectacle Pond. He poached a lot and cut hardwood by the cord that didn't belong to him, because the timberland owners didn't mind and they were glad to have Sherm in residence for spotting fires, if any.

Sherm, in his active days, had been a Great Northern cook, but was never a boiler or a sizzler. So while Gerald and his brother fished Kibby Stream, down comes Sherm Osgood, and the three held powwow about a number of things. And Sherm insisted the brothers abandon their plans for trout chowder and come to his camp for noonin', as he had dinner on the make and it'd be good to have some company to offset his otherwise lonely meals.

Not because of Sherm's reputation as the best cook north of Hannibal's Crossing, but with a desire to brighten the old gentleman's loneliness, Gerald and his brother assented at once. And as noon approached, they took down their rods, scrubbed in the brook, put on black-fly dope, and walked to Sherm's camp. There, Sherm bade them enter, and the aroma of an off-season venison stew was prominent.

Gerald says you can't begin to imagine what this was like. Sherm's camp was nasty neat. His Kineo range was covered with pots and pans. The table was set with crystal and Spode dishes, and Sherm had a vase of posies in the middle. There were linen napkins, even place cards made of birch bark. Sherm had a watercress salad in a great wooden bowl, and staghorn tools for dipping it. Sherm said, "For special occasions, I got the wherewithal for a high-banquet splash."

Gerald said everything was in high-society style and that Sherm's food was beyond belief. Gerald says the biscuits were so light they had to hold them down on the plate with the doilies. So the three men sat down to eat, and Gerald says it was the finest dinner he ever et, bar none. He says no small part of the pleasure came with the stories Sherm rattled off about the river drives on the West Branch with bean-hole baked beans, roasted pa'tridges, moose-meat pies, and all the good things river drivers like, right up to sugar tarts with fudge sauce.

"There we was," says Gerald, "finest food ever served at our elbows, and drooling about better stuff as Sherm described them."

Gerald said they let Sherm ramble along and kept having more stew, and it was wonderful. So they lingered, and after a couple of hours his brother (the game warden) looked at his watch and says, "Well, brother, I daresay p'aps we'd best light out down the trail."

"Dinner's ov-uh?" says Gerald, and his brother said, "That was the finest job I ever stuck a tooth in!"

Gerald says he was so full of top-notch grub he could hardly get up from his chair. "But I did, and I picked up my dishes and started for the sink. I looked around, and I couldn't find the dishpan. Sherm looked over at me, and said, 'What be you about to do?' "

Gerald says, "I thought that was a curious question under the circumstances, so I says, 'Wash the dishes, what else?' Decent thing to do after a banquet like that."

So Gerald says, "Sherm laughed at me. He said, 'I never wash no dishes around here. Take them paper towels and wipe 'em off!' " And when Gerald tells about this, he says, "Kinda took the shine off the best meal I ever et!"

Next time I see Gerald, I'll ask him about those culinary arts.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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