Essays from John Gould
(Page 4 of 6)
In the days when hands were busy all day at outdoor work and exercise was a process of life an appetite was a presumption of ingestion. And if you figured it cost maybe a quarter of a cent a portion to set baked beans before a family, you figured it high because there were always some left over for breakfast. And you were serving something the Waldorf chefs couldn't match, and can't. Put a pan of buttermilk biscuits alongside, some crisp, juicy sour pickles, and an apple pie, and if you listened you could hear mighty Zeus on high Olympus whimpering in envy as he toyed with his plain old nectar and ambrosia. This is true, because I was there.Skip to next paragraph
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Dried beef didn't cost much. It was supposed to be some kind of an orphan of the packing industry, and although it had a Chicago by-line on it we understood it was really South American meat and a by-product. For a few cents Mother could get a big jar of the stuff, and with the magic of her kitchen wand could translate it magnificently.
If she wanted to raise supper into the million-dollar category, she could bake the potatoes, but usually she just boiled them. Understand that we had potatoes pushing up against the floor timbers down cellar and the cows and pigs helped us eat them, so 10 or 15 bushels one way or the other worried nobody. So there was a big iron pot for boiling potatoes, and it never cooled off. People today don't use potatoes the way we did. We put them in bread, and made soup of them not the cold, clammy stuff with the fancy name, but real hot soup. We had fried potatoes for breakfast, even, and with a bacon fat flavor they're hard to beat. And for dried beef the boiled hot potato was just the checker.
It got smashed on the plate, with a gob of butter on top, and then we dipped into the bowl to cover it with creamed dried beef. The top-notch kind would have a half-dozen hard-boiled eggs worked into the sauce, and the little chunks of yolk would look up and grin at you like a burst of sunshine. Everything was fine and dandy. The dried beef had a smoky, salty flavor that suggested the exotic; giving you a Westphalian ham or Labrador gasperaux effect.
Everybody got up full as ticks, replete and surfeited, convinced this was the best of all possible worlds and that fortune had favored us with the greatest cook ever to grasp a spoon.
Well, she argues that when she goes to the store to spend $25 for a little bag of modern goodies to stave off starvation, and her thoughts turn to dried beef, prudence suggests there are better ways to spend the last digits in the budget. As an occasional experience with the expensive, yes; but the one-time simplicity of dried beef and boiled potatoes has been priced out of sight in the great progress of logistics. "If we were millionaires," she says, "We could have it every meal," and I can't think of a better reason to be a millionaire.
For going-on a week, I've been waking promptly at 2:45 a.m. I don't get up, but I look at the luminous dial, say, "Good luck, Harold!" and go back to sleep. One swallow doesn't make a summer, but one trip to haul seems to make that much of a lobsterman out of a highlander.
Harold Jameson is a lobsterman, and for some time he had been saying, "You ought to get up some morning and go haul with me!" So long as it was "some morning" I was agreeable, but now Harold said, "I'll pick you up tomorrow. I set my alarm at 2:45, Harold tooted his pick-up at 3:00, and we were off down Muscongus Bay to attend 6~ traps in the vicinity of Mos-quito Rock. I will be glad when I get this 2:45 stuff out of my system.
Maine lobstermen are not the heave-ho and breaking-wave kind of mariner. They' respect their ocean to the point of timid-ity. It has been said the men who never fear the sea are its vic-tims; the cautious and prudent give it never a chance. The reason for pre-dawn hauling of lobster pots is in tune with this on the long average the Maine ocean is calmest on the tail of night and before the morning breezes up. Each day's decision about "going to haul" is made in the darkness on the wharf, so after sniffing and with many a "waal, I dunno," Harold decided "mebbe" it would hold calm long enough to get his 6~ traps by Mosquito Rock.