Claiborne Shows His Slip

One of the most enduring social mechanisms is that by which elitism becomes most ostensibly manifest in people who come from the most humble background. Take for example any given one of those Upper East Side hipsters who infest the trendier corners of New York City and act as if they’re the apex of the social universe when in fact most if not all of them grew up in a fly-over state and moved to the city after securing a degree at Podunk U.

A less current but perhaps more familiar example would be Craig Claiborne, who grew up in a boarding house in Indianola, Mississippi, eventually became the arbiter of culinary taste for the nation and the architype of effete snobbery. Claiborne’s excesses in his disregard for the “little people” were such that he was chastised by Pope Paul VI for a $4000 dinner for two in Paris he enjoyed with his partner Pierre Franey in 1975; the Vatican newspaper deplored the display while millions were starving. The French press noted that the price of the meal represented a year’s wages for most workers, and American columnist Harriet Van Horne wrote, “This calculated evening of high-class piggery offends an average American’s sense of decency. It seems wrong morally, esthetically and in every other way”. Claiborne was nonplussed, of course, which is the typical reaction of snobs to their extravagant self-indulgences. “Let them eat cake”, indeed.

Given this display of culinary dandyism, it is with some degree of surprise that we find on page 312 of Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook (Harper & Row: 1961), after a whole slew of soufflés and between two egg curries, a recipe for pickled eggs, which are to most people the least sophisticated dish in the world. Good heavens! Is this a chink in Claiborne’s otherwise immaculate armor? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not; one recipe I have from a Junior League-type cookbook published in the 1930’s claims that they’re “ever so good chopped into hash, and provide just the right touch bedded on greens with a dressing of sharp, spicy goodness.” Maybe pickled eggs acquired the blue-collar tar brush after they had become a snack staple in Southern pool halls and honkey-tonks; then again, like any given snob, maybe they started out that way.

1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
2 pieces ginger root
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
6 hard-boiled eggs

1. Boil together ten minutes all the ingredients except the eggs.
2. Place the peeled eggs in a jar and cover with the spiced vinegar. Refrigerate twenty-four house before using. If desired, the eggs may be colored with pure vegetable dye added to the liquid; or beets may be pickled along with the eggs.

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