Ya Mama’s Mynezz

In July, 2018, Epicurious, “the ultimate food resource for the home cook,” tasted 16 brands of mayonnaise to determine the very best one. The testers selected top-selling brands widely available across the country, and included a few regional cult favorites (e.g. Duke’s and Blue Plate) easily available online. They also included Miracle Whip, which isn’t technically mayonnaise, but is a popular as a mayo substitute in the Midwest and elsewhere. In a blind tasting, their panel of editors found Blue Plate Mayonnaise “The Best Mayonnaise You Can Buy at the Grocery Store.”

The panel described its flavor as “bright, lemony even, and though it looked a bit gloppy upon opening, a quick stir revealed that it had the perfect creamy texture.” Blue Plate was one of the few brands in the taste test made exclusively with egg yolks as opposed to whole eggs, which testers claimed gave it “a more satisfying, homemade flavor.” Editor Emily Johnson detected the “sharp bite” Blue Plate has at the back of the tongue, which is ideal for a sauce, and when eaten with cherry tomatoes, the acidity softens, enhancing the fruit, and making the whole bite taste more tomatoey. “This is 100% the mayo you want on your next BLT,” she added. And on your favorite Po-Boy; Blue Plate Mayonnaise guarantees an authentic New Orleans flavor.

Gretna, LA, late ’30s/early ’40s.

Before the early 1900’s, mayonnaise was considered a gourmet condiment that could only be acquired from what today we would call “artisan” sources. Blue Plate was one of the first commercially prepared mayonnaise producers and distributors in the United States, beginning in 1929 when Wesson-Snowdrift Company, an offshoot of The Southern Oil Company, began to produce mayonnaise in a warehouse in Gretna, Louisiana. The company chose “Blue Plate” for its product from the popular term “blue plate special,” meaning a full meal at a modest price. The commercial production of mayonnaise in a city renowned for its food was considered a revolutionary culinary modernization.

Original Blue Plate Factory c. 1978

In 1941, construction began on a sleek, white concrete factory with rounded glass-brick corners across the river in Mid-City, at what is now 1315 S. Jefferson Davis Parkway. Designed by New Orleans architect, August Perez Junior, the Blue Plate building was completed and opened for business in November 1943. The Streamline Moderne structure, with its terra-cotta tile and dazzling art deco sign, soon became known to many New Orleanians as the place where “ya mama’s mynezz” was made. Over time, the Blue Plate brand also included margarine, jelly, salad dressing, and barbecue sauce.

Locally delivered daily in small trucks to each store, Blue Plate Mayonnaise was marketed throughout the Southeast. In 1960, Hunt Foods of California bought Wesson Oil and Blue Plate Foods, Inc., but in 1974, William B. Reily III, whose grandfather founded the popular Luzianne brand, acquired Blue Plate Foods from Hunt-Wesson, and the mayonnaise ownership returned to its Louisiana homeland and became part of the Wm. B. Reily and Company family. Over the next 30 years, Reily acquired several brands from both regional and national companies. They include Swans Down Cake Flour, Try Me Sauces & Seasonings (namely Tiger Sauce), French Market Coffees, New England Tea & Coffee.

While the Reily Foods Company is still headquartered in New Orleans, the company made the decision to shut down operations there in 2000, moving production to the company factory in Knoxville. The factory closure, coupled with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, seemed to ensure the factory’s destruction, but developers turned the iconic building into loft apartments in 2011. While you’ll certainly find Blue Plate on location, it will likely be in someone’s refrigerator.

A Preacher’s Kid from Alligator

Jack’s Skillet: Plain Talk and Some Recipes from a Guy in the Kitchen (Algonquin, 1997), is by Jack Butler, who isn’t just some guy, but a poet and novelist. He was born in Alligator, Mississippi, to a son of Delta gentry who sought the cloth. He attended high school in Clinton, Mississippi, was ordained in Missouri, and earned an MFA from UA (Fayetteville)  in 1979.

Butler’s first novel, Jujitsu for Christ (August House, 1986), told the story of a young man who opens a martial arts school in Jackson, Mississippi. His third book, Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock (Knopf, 1993), employs collage, newspaper excerpts, cartoon reprints, and an omniscient narrator who claims to be either the Holy Ghost or a deceased dog. The novel received a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote a food column for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (His 1993 short story collection, Hawk Gumbo, is not a cookbook, but it’s good stuff!).

In Jack’s Skillet, Butler writes about food as pleasure, as ritual, as communication, “satisfaction, the giving and receiving of sustenance and delight.”

“I’m a cook, and I can’t help thinking about food. I’m a novelist, and I can’t help telling stories, I’m a poet, and I can’t help singing out from time to time, As a result, you should think of this book as a story, a story with occasional bursts of paean and dithyramb. The story is the story of our lives with food. I say our.”

“Stories have characters, and this one is no exception. I can’t write about food without writing about people. Stories also have settings and backgrounds. I spent roughly the first twenty years of my life in Mississippi, mostly in the cotton-growing Delta. Then I spent twenty-five or so in Arkansas. You are what you eat, and all my life I’ve eaten Southern. But sort of nouvelle Southern, with pluralistic influences. Semi-enlightened good old boy, you might say.”

“I can’t imagine writing about food and not at some point talking about the absolute best breakfast on earth, which is not, I’m sorry to say, garlic-and-cheese grits, or even pork chops, scrambled eggs, and hot biscuits with strawberry preserves, but novy mit a schmeer-a toasted bagel slathered with cream cheese and layered with capers, thin slices of smoked Nova Scotia salmon, tomato, and onion.”

Jack’s Skillet includes such pearls as “Tomato Gravy and Biscuits,” “Mosey Froghead’s Barbecue Sauce,” “A Southerner’s First Meal in Heaven,” “A Grace for the Old Man,” and this nugget:

How to Get Rid of Beer

I’m not a heavy-duty beer drinker. I like stout, and I like Alaskan amber. Which, incidentally, as I found out on my last trip to Alaska, is what they now call the beer formerly known as Chinook. I spent half a week in Fairbanks asking after Chinook and not finding it before anybody bothered to straighten me out. Seems somebody decided that reminding the thirsty customer of the smell of dead fish just at the point of purchase wasn’t all that grand a marketing strategy. Maybe not. The beer’s just as good, either way.

I do like a snappingly cold brewski or two after a long hike or a hot game in the summertime, but I will never park in front of the tube and start in on a sixpack.

Nevertheless, we always seem to have extra beer around the house, lots of extra beer. Usually several different brands. Lately it’s been Pearl Light and Miller Ice Draft. I can, by the way, recommend Pearl Light as an excellent swimming-pool beer for those 100° Arkansas or Carolina or even Connecticut July days. Only seventy calories a can, and it tastes pretty good. I mean really, I’m not kidding, it tastes pretty good. For American beer.

Anyway, what happens is that we have a party or have some people over, so we go out and buy some beer, and then the people bring their own beer, and then everybody winds up drinking white wine or gets into my Wild Turkey while I’m not looking.

So then we have a refrigerator full of beer. It stays full for months and months while I try to figure out ways to get rid of it. And that’s our situation right now.

I can manage a can or two a month myself, if I decide to have boilermakers for a change, but that’s about all, especially during the winter. Clearly, then, I am in need of alternatives. Lately I’ve been experimenting with beer batter. I like batter-fried things. The greasier the better. Grease is good for you, after all. _ And it’s fun to play around with different sorts of batter. I grew up on cornmeal batter and egg batter, though mostly when I do steak fingers or catfish or fried chicken nowadays, as I’ve told you, I just salt, pepper, flour, and fry.

Beer batter is completely different.

The recipe I use is simplicity itself. (I want to caution you that there’s nothing official about this recipe. This is not, repeat not, authentic beer batter.) I put white flour in a bowl, the amount depending on how much batter I think I’m going to need. I sprinkle in some salt according to how salty I think I’m going to want the batter to taste. I cut in some butter or margarine in the ratio of roughly a tablespoon to a cup of flour. I add cold beer, stirring until I have a nice thick batter-liquid, but dense and clinging. I drink the rest of the beer.

Beer batter comes out a lot like tempura, which means it isn’t suitable for just anything. I’ve tried it out on all sorts of things recently, even catfish and chicken livers. On the whole, I don’t think I’d recommend it for most meats, though the chicken livers were just fine hot from the skillet. Jayme liked the catfish, but I had some reservations. My thought is that it would work better for extremely firm-fleshed seafoods, like shrimp and, hm, ah, shrimp.

And vegetables. Beer batter is really great for those deep-fried happy-hour veggie-type gnoshes. It works great for mushrooms, which are almost impossible to get any other sort of batter to stick to. It would, I am sure, if you can bear the concept, work great for nuggets of cauliflower or broccoli, or for dill pickles. It is supreme for onion rings, which I dearly love, and of which good ones are mighty hard to get.

What I do is flour my fryees- the rings, the mushrooms, whatever. Just shake them in a bag with flour, dip them in the batter, drop them in hot oil in a deep fryer, get them golden brown all over, and drain them (beer batter holds a lot of oil).

Then you can sit down with your crunchy munchies and tune in to see what the score of the game is, and whether Mike Piazza has hit any more home runs.

And what the hey, maybe even have a cold beer with your meal. It would be appropriate, and you’d be getting rid of two of the cotton-picking things in one evening.

Beer-Batter Onion Rings

1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, cut into 14″-thick rings
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
6 to 8 ounces beer
Cooking oil for deep-frying

Mix flour and salt. Put flour mixture into a paper bag. Throw in onion rings and shake, then set aside. They should be only lightly coated. Transfer flour to a mixing bowl and cut in butter. Add beer gradually, stirring until batter thickens. Heat cooking oil in a deep fryer (a high-walled skillet will do). The oil is hot enough for frying when water dripped onto the oil pops and sizzles. Coat onion rings thoroughly with batter and drop into oil. Fry until golden brown all over, then remove to paper and drain. This batter will also serve as a fine tempura-style batter for a wide range of vegetables.

State Cake

It should come as no surprise to any of you that most states in our Union actually have official state foods, and it should be equally unsurprising that most are desserts.

Official state foods include Lane Cake, the State Dessert of Alabama, as well as the comparably famous Smith Island Cake, which is that of Maryland. Utah has a State Snack Food (Jell-O!?), and it’s quite telling that the State Snack of Texas is tortilla chips and salsa while that of New York is yogurt. California has all of four State Nuts (almond, pecan, walnut, and pistachio). By my reckoning, Oklahoma has won the state food contest hands down by officiating a State Meal: Chicken-fried steak, barbecued pork, fried okra, squash, cornbread, grits, corn, sausage with biscuits and gravy, black-eyed peas, strawberries, and pecan pie.

Unofficial state foods are often the subject articles assigned to some junior editor for filler/fodder in any given dozens of click-bait slide shows. On any given one of these fluff pieces, you’ll inevitably find a Mississippi mud cake, which is not our official state cake. In fact, unless you count large mouth bass, Mississippi doesn’t have a state food.

Mississippi mud cake is more fudge or a brownie than a cake, and that’s likely how it began, but around fifty years ago in the 70s when all sorts of craziness was going on (yes, I was there), marshmallows—inexplicably and unnecessarily—were introduced, likely because the resulting swirls are reminiscent of currents and eddies. Me, I think marshmallows are a vile alteration, and Australians seem to agree, since the Aussie mud cake—no, they do not call it Murrumbidgee mud cake—is marshmallow-free and smooth as silt.

One icon deserves another, so here’s Tammy Wynette’s recipe for Mississippi mud cake, which she says was taught to her by her mother, Mildred Lee.

2 sticks melted butter
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ½ cups plain flour
1 ½ cups pecans, chopped
½ cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
Mix together sugar, cocoa, and butter and eggs. Add flour, pecans, vanilla and salt to above. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees in a greased 9×13 oblong pan.
Topping:
Cover with miniature marshmallows and return to oven to melt.
Cream:
½ cup milk
1/3 cup cocoa
1 stick melted butter
1 box powdered sugar
Sift cocoa and powdered sugar, add milk and butter. Mix until smooth, then put on top of cake.

Stoner Dan’s Summer Sausage

People don’t make their own sausage for many reasons. Top of the list is because they don’t have the equipment or patience. But summer sausage requires no special equipment and little patience.

Prior to hitting the kitchen, sodium nitrate, summer sausage seasoning, and casings need to be acquired. These items are not hard to find over the net, and can usually be found locally. You’ll spend about $8 for enough products to make 100 pounds of summer sausage. Sodium nitrate is controversial in online fora where everything is controversial, but it’s as likely to make you sick as the 4 cigars smoked over a lifetime of weddings/birth announcements are to give you lung cancer. If sodium nitrate is not used—in addition to a botulism concern—the finished product will look like over-cooked hamburger, slightly grey, with tones of brown. Sausage should be pink, and a sodium nitrate cure imparts this hue. Many online recipes eschew casings and nitrate, that’s fine, just call it dried meatloaf instead of sausage and don’t post pictures. I admit the seasoning is a compromise to someone who likes to source and mix, but if traditional summer sausage is desired, you’ll spin a lot of wheels and money to put together the seasoning. Just buy it.

This method uses a 1:1 ratio of beef (or venison) to pork butt. Check with the processor about this ratio; most will use 2:3 pork to beef if not instructed otherwise. This will work, but may want to increase the beef later if this is the case. If using venison, mix 4 lbs. of the venison/pork with 2 lbs. of 73% ground beef. Dissolve slightly less than a teaspoon of sodium nitrate and a tablespoon of salt (I use kosher salt that has been smoked) in a few tablespoons of water. Mix well with the meat, and pack tightly in a gallon zip top bag. I never would have thought to dissolve the cure in water, but it is the only way to distribute it thoroughly into the meat.

The mixture needs to sit up (cure) in the fridge for at least 3 days. I have been told by everyone I know that cures meat not to second guess the amount of cure—one grain too much and the batch is ruined—and this I believe. I’m also told by seasoned veterans that 5 days is optimal on the wait; but that wears on the patience (maybe this should be discussed during the safety meeting). At the end of the cure, put the meat in a cold bowl, and mix in the summer sausage seasoning. How much will depend on the way the seasoning is bought. I kept it simple as it was so cheap, and bought enough to do 100 lbs. so the math was easy.

The casings are synthetic, so do not soak or salt them as you would with natural casings. Prick the casings with a needle; pricking allows moisture to escape as well as a little of that fat you don’t want causing a ring around the sausage. This method makes 3 sausages, in 3″ diameter casings; not much is lost so I guess they are close to 2 pounds apiece. Just ball the meat up and drop it in the casing. Scour the pantry and find a hot sauce, vinegar, or other similarly shaped bottle, that perfectly slides into the casing, and use it as a plunger to eradicate any gaps in the meat stuffing. It’s self-explanatory once the process is begun how to not let this happen, but if you had a proper safety meeting prior to beginning this process, it will be understood that it can’t be put into print without eliciting distracting juvenile laughter, so let’s move on to cooking.

I add a little smoked salt to mine, and a lot of others use liquid smoke, but I can’t recommend smoking this sausage in the traditional sense–too many competing flavors. Place the links on a cooling rack, over a baking sheet at 200F for about 4 hours. I turn the sausage (to prevent flat spots) at the half way point, and also mop off the liquid that sweats out. Set the timer on the oven, and let it cool before taking out the sausage. Refrigerate for a few days before slicing.

Love,

Dan

(Dan Vimes is a 1989 graduate of the Mississippi School of Math and Science. Vimes entered Rensselaer Polytechic Institute in Troy, New York on a full academic scholarship, but was asked to leave after the first semester after an on-campus incident involving a crossbow. Currently residing in a 35′ Airstream, in Pelahatchie, Dan raises guinea pigs for reptile breeders and grows hemp for religious ceremonies. You can contribute to Dan’s legal fund by emailing the administrator of this site.)

Jesse’s Muffaletta Relish

Drain and chop a cup of giardiniera; combine with a cup each of minced/diced pimento-stuffed green and pitted black olives. Add a quarter cup each chopped white onion, minced celery, and chopped parsley/green onions. Mix well. In a separate bowl put a quarter cup of olive oil, add three finely minced  toes of garlic, and a quarter cup mild vinegar. (Don’t use use apple cider; it totally clashes with the vibe.) Add a tablespoon or so of Italian seasoning, maybe a teaspoon or two of coarsely-ground black pepper, and two tablespoons of smashed and minced capers. Blend vigorously with a small whip or shake in a jar. Pour over the olives and giardiniera mix and blend well. You can put this is a food processor if you want a smoother texture. Let sit for at least an hour and stir well before using. This will keep for about two weeks in the fridge.

Halcyon Soup

Homemade soups should grace our tables more often; they’ve fed body and soul long before canning came along, and a good soup made with stout stock and proper care is a measure of the cook.

Gazpacho is a king of cold soups, an easily-made, refreshing and to most minds somewhat novel way to serve fresh summer vegetables. Old recipes of this dish always include bread as one of the basic ingredients, usually melded early on with oil, salt and garlic into something resembling a paste. While my recipe does not include bread at that juncture–to me, it gums up the soup–take it from someone who crumbles cold cornbread over his, bread is a service requirement, and any well-textured bread will do.

This recipe is from my halcyon days in Oxford, which was an intoxicating environment, doubly augmented by the wine of youth itself.  I was desultorily studying for a degree, diligently exploring my capacities for vice, and desolately working in a string of eateries, among them The Bean Blossom Bistro, by some reckoning the first health-food restaurant in Oxford. It was located on Jackson Avenue across from the old telephone exchange.  The Good Food Store, Oxford’s first health-food store—then in its second incarnation—was on the corner next door. Carol Davis opened the Bean Blossom in 1978. We had worked together at the old Moonlight Café, which Betty Blair had opened up in the Hoka a couple of years earlier. Carol and I became fast friends during that time, and when she opened up her own place, she brought me with her.

The Bean Blossom, like so many small restaurants, was founded more on good intentions than experience. I don’t think we ever seated more than fifty people at one time, and usually far, far less. The kitchen could barely hold more than three people. Our menu changed daily, though we could always whip up a tofu burger, or a veggie stir-fry or a great salad any time you wanted it. Carol introduced me to a lot of new foods, including adzuki beans, which I cook like cowpeas, and tofu, which I of course deep-fry.

She also brought gazpacho into my world, and for that I am evermore grateful. I remember dipping the soup from a bucket in the bottom of our double-door refrigerator, a sheen of oil glistening atop the mixture. We served it with a variety of breads, and each bowl I eat now is a serving of nostalgia. Like memories themselves, this soup improves with age, but sours if mishandled.

Bean Blossom Gazpacho

Take two or three cloves of garlic, mince very, very finely and mash in the bottom of a glass or enamel bowl with a teaspoon of salt and about a half a cup of olive oil. If you want to try adding bread, now is the time, but I can’t make a recommendation as to what kind. Add in fine dice one yellow onion, three very ripe summer tomatoes, two peeled cucumbers, two ribs celery (with leaves), and a sweet pepper if you like, though be careful, since the pepper can overpower the other vegetables; a sweet yellow banana pepper works well. If you want to add a hot pepper such as a jalapeno, fine, but I don’t recommend heat; this is a cooling dish, and should be refreshing rather than pungent. Likewise, starchy vegetables such as fresh corn or peas seem out-of-place to me as well, though there are countless variations.

Add another teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of fresh basil, a heaping tablespoon of freshly-chopped parsley, a teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper and a bit more olive oil, perhaps a tablespoon. Add a vegetable juice such as V8; tomato juice is too thick. Let this mixture sit for a couple of hours in the refrigerator in a sealed non-metallic container overnight. An hour before serving, add more juice if needed, a little fresh chopped parsley, adjust the salt and pepper and return to the refrigerator. Serve in chilled bowls (freshly chopped chives are a nice touch) with good crusty bread.

A Feast of Feathers

This absolute gem of a story by Jeff Weddle, a man of many parts, but a poet at heart, was inspired by true events. It’s the lead item in his brilliant collection, When Giraffes Flew (SYP; Tallahassee, 2015).

You’re ten years old the day the chickens explode. What could possibly prepare you for this? You’re in the living room watching TV, and you hear the bang out in the yard, and you run to the door. A pickup truck is turned over beside a broken elm tree, and there are chicken crates everywhere and chickens all over the yard. Some of the chickens look dead already, but others are screaming and running around flapping their wings. Poochie and Smoke appear from somewhere out back and lay in on the chickens. They bite the heads and sling the bodies, both just the same, as if they had been taught to do this. They kill the birds and eat their fill, then kill more and leave them lying dead on the lawn.

“Mama,” you scream, but she’s not there. She’s visiting her sister in town, and you’re in the house alone-just you and the wrecked truck in the yard and all those chickens. Dead chickens, dying chickens, chickens being murdered by the dogs. The scene is horrible. Poochie and Smoke fight over a small bird. Poochie has it by the head and Smoke has a wing. The wing rips off, and Poochie backs away, growling.

“Mama,” you scream again.

The driver is still in the truck, but you don’t know this. You don’t even think about him. All you can think about is the chickens in your front yard.

You don’t know how long it is before you think to call somebody. You call your mother at your aunt’s house and tell her what’s happening.

“Calm down,” she says. “Talk slow. Tell me what’s the matter.”

Where do you start? What can you tell her?

“Feathers,” you say. “There are all these feathers. The yard is filled with them.”

“Feathers?”

But that’s all you can think to say. After a while, she stops trying to get the story, and says she’s coming right home. You hang up but don’t dare walk back to the door. Instead, you go back and stare at the television. You turn up the sound so you can’t hear what’s going on outside.

The front door opens. There’s a man standing there, a man you don’t know. He’s bloody and feathers are stuck all over him. He looks like a big, awful rooster. He stands there in your front room for a second then dips over and slides against the wall, all the way to the floor. There’s a wide trail of blood where he slides. You realize this isn’t good.

This is the driver. He’s a farmer from out in the county, and he was on his way to sell his chickens in town. Now he’s had a bad experience in your yard, and his chickens are mostly beyond salvage. Now he’s lying on your living room floor bleeding to death, feathers stuck all over his body. Now you have to deal with him.

But of course you can’t. There’s nothing to do but sit where you are and wait. The noise outside has quieted to the din of a few dozen chickens clucking and squawking. The dogs have followed the man into the house. This is the biggest chicken of them all, and they each know they must have him. Smoke wises up and latches onto his head, just above the cheek, and locks her jaw tight. Poochie has a shoulder. They try their best to sling him around and kill him, but he weighs too much. They growl and jerk, but it’s no good.

You run over and kick the dogs away, but they are crazed with blood. For a moment it looks like they’re going to jump on you, but they don’t; they want the big chicken and nothing is going to keep them from having it.

By the time your mother arrives it’s all over. The man’s face and arm are chewed to pieces. He’s on the floor, dead-blood and feathers stuck all over the floor and walls.

Your mother doesn’t know what to make of any of this. You think she’ll scream or faint, but what she does is scoop you up and run into the bathroom and lock the door.

“Are you okay?” she yells at you. “Are you okay?”

There is no way to answer this question. You sit on her lap and shake your head back and forth, but you don’t know what you’re doing.

A week later, things are mostly back to normal. The truck has been towed away and most of the feathers are gone from the yard. The front room is immaculate. The broken elm tree has been removed. A man from the sheriff’s office has come and taken Smoke and Poochie away. You cried over the dogs.

When the deputy came for them, you tried to keep him away, but you’ve learned now, there’s no fighting a man with a badge and a gun.

Your mother hasn’t left your side in seven days.

“Mama,” you tell her, the chicken man can’t hurt us anymore.”

She smiles the tiniest bit, but you know she believes something different. From now on, every so often, the yard will yield a host of bones.

If there is anything in the world you miss more than your dogs, you don’t want to think of it. At night, now, you wonder about all that road out there. There must be more trucks heading your way, and maybe chickens aren’t the worst of it. It’s hard to imagine this might be true, but something tells you to believe it.

The Sardonic Sardine

Some years ago, an obscure editor at a well-known fashion magazine prevailed upon a famous food writer to come up with a piece on sardines. To say that coercion was involved over this story is an understatement of near biblical proportions; the poor writer’s feet were probably held to some hellish, check-denying fire until he came up with a printable essay on a subject far beneath his contempt.

The end product, a minor etude of culinary literature memorable primarily by its invective, was infused with caustic bemusement and only a very, very small degree of begrudging admiration for the fish itself. The subject took second place to the condescension that infused every sentence, each one a blazing example of scathing hauteur.

What the writer was trying to do (with limited success) was to raise the sardine to such a degree of sophistication that it fit seamlessly in between the inexplicably anorexic homoerotic fashions, the absolutely incomprehensible art, and exhausting columns of blithering prose. He began with an “imagine this” sort of scenario in which a thin, impeccably dressed Parisienne strolls into a bistro on the Champs E’lysee, orders a beer with sardines au plat, then squats and gobbles without getting so much as a spot on her duds.

(Possible, sure.)

Most people turn their noses up at sardines. They have a strong smell, for one thing, but that’s not the main reason; lots of people eat stuff that smells bad, especially when nutrition isn’t particularly a key consideration. No, the reason people don’t eat sardines is because in this neck of the woods they’re considered trashy, so trashy that you’ll not find a single sardine recipe in any of Jill Connor Browne’s otherwise excellent culinary compilations.

If you want to try sardines for the first time, get a can of Port Clydes (in oil) and drain them; use a colander if you feel the need, but do not rinse them with water. Instead, sprinkle them with a little freshly-squeezed lemon juice and just a bit of kosher salt, set them in a sealed container in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled and eat them with sour gherkins, raw celery and onions, and have your favorite beer with them. Dill toast is wonderful alongside, but rye Melba will suffice and saltines of any sort will do any time at all.