The Last Meal

Here in the South people of a certain age are known to have casseroles in their freezers ready to pop into the oven when told of the death of a distant friend or same such relative so they can rush hot food to the designated home after dressing, coiffing and putting on an appropriately soulful demeanor, but foods associated with one’s own death are exceptional, the most notable examples being the last meals of the condemned, which range from the anticipated extravagant to the unexpectedly mundane or bizarre.

In the first category we have such foods as the steak and lobster ordered by such as Ted Bundy, Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis and Ronnie Lee Gardner. Sacco and Vanzetti had soup and meat with toast and tea (appropriate). John Wayne Gacy had a dozen fried shrimp, a bucket of original KFC with fries and a pound of strawberries (expected). Timothy McVeigh had two pints of mint and chocolate chip ice cream (skinny). The ultimate example in the second category would be the last federal inmate executed in the United States before the moratorium on the death penalty following Furman v. Georgia, who settled with a single olive (black with pit). A restaurant in Japan currently offers the last meals of these and others to patrons; no substitutions.

Then you have this unique example of a dish reputedly used by a condemned man to delay his own execution. The unfortunate unknown was sentenced to be hanged in Placerville, California, which is a little over 100 miles northeast of San Francisco, during the Gold Rush days.

For his last meal he ordered oysters and eggs knowing that the oysters would have to be brought inland by wagon over rough roads delaying his execution by several days. Other versions of the origins for hangtown fry exist, but the poignancy of this tale resonates. Hangtown fry is nothing more than an oyster omelet or frittata. Bacon, onions, sweet peppers and ham, are traditional, unsurprisingly reminiscent of the ‘Denver’ omelet. Somehow I find hangtown appropriate for a Sunday night.