The has(h)-beens

Whenever my cook serves me some red-flannel hash with a poached (dropped!) egg, I congratulate myself, thank her, and think about Bruce White and the time he imprudently spoke to his wife about some aspect of her cookery and she responded from about five feet in the air. By the time Bruce got around to telling me about this, he had already forgotten what it was that Mary objected to, and whatever rankled is not important now. Red-flannel hash, you must know, is a left-over, and sometimes left-overs occasion remarks to cooks. First, you need a boiled dinner, corned beef and cabbage, and then you pass what's left over through a meat grinder - piece of brisket, potatoes, carrots, turnip, cabbage, and all - and the beets. The beets make the hash red, hence the red-flannel. The dropped egg is optional; some do, some don't. There are other happy moments about which humanity cheers, like hearing you've inherited a million dollars and so on, but an occasional lunch of red-flannel hash takes up the slack.

Now, Mary was a top-notch cook. The Whites had numerous children, and I've noticed there's a relationship of cookery prowess with the number of mouths to feed. So for some preposterous reason soon lost in the to-do, Bruce said something about a left-over, and Mary said all right, if you know so much about it, let's see what YOU can do! Bruce accepted this challenge and the fun began.

Bruce thereupon made up the menus for three meals a day for two weeks, and Mary agreed to follow them precisely and no questions asked. Bruce realized almost at once that his masculine attitudes were no match for feminine logic. Mary made her point with a few meals, and while Bruce would have called the whole thing off with a crow stew, she kept right on and made him eat through the two weeks. His big mistake was that each of Bruce's meals was a new and complete unit, leaving no room for the cunning improvisations of a gifted housewife about left-overs. The food for Bruce's two weeks cost much more than a little bit, and Mary was throwing out perfectly good food that wouldn't keep until the end of the program. And Bruce gained twenty-three pounds.

We were reasonably close to the Whites, and looked on with amusement. Mary was considerate. Instead of bringing the subject up every ten or fifteen minutes to rub it in and make Bruce feel bad, she just sat back and smiled a lot. Silent smiles, so she seemed sometimes to smirk. Bruce didn't bring the subject up either but did a lot of looking the other way. Then time eased the situation and the caper was amusing rather than petulant. Bruce learned, and since then has eaten faithfully without comment. Which is the way a thoughtful eater will handle his cook. I was freshly conjugal at the time and was well instructed by Bruce's mistake. Although I have never known of a time when I might have spoken disrespectfully of my victuals.

One time I lunched where the lady, not expecting me, had dipped into reserves and put on the table something that was new to me but well-remembered to her family. The gentleman at the head of the table looked at the dish, struck an attitude of pleasure, and said, affably enough, ''Well, well! How do you do! Good to see you again!'' The lady was not amused, and 'twas said she was cool and restrained toward the gentleman for ten months.

On the other hand, there was the wiser way Laban Toothaker expressed his constant approval of the beans his wife baked. Laban was diplomatic. His wife did serve beans overmuch, and the word was that they weren't all that good. Chewy, and short on flavor. But Laban did get his three meals a day and recognized within himself that with his disposition he was lucky to have somebody around to run his cookstove. So every time the crusty old beanpot came to table, which was sometimes meal after meal until the beans were gone, Laban responded as all intelligent menpeople should so long as they are getting something to eat. Laban would lean back to tuck his napkin into his shirt collar , and then would come forward to the table. He would reach and lift the cover of the beanpot, eagerly sniffing the rising steam, and an expression of supreme pleasure would brighten his face.

As if surprised, he would say, ''Aha! Baked beans!''

Thus endeth the morning lesson.

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