Nonfiction

The Bread of Kings by Teresa Lust

Fake Pies and Pig Thighs by Rachel Komich

An Essay in Which Pam Greer Oozes Out of Her Clothes by Richard LeBlond

On Pierogi(s) by Mark Lewandowski

Vegetexting by Jennifer Bal

The Benefits of Eating Too Much in the Desert by E. M. Eastick

A Question of Taste by Meredith Escudier

The Beauty of Pizza by Austin Rogers

Marmalade: The Melomeli of Modern America by Michael Pennell

Three Elizabeths, One George, Hot Cross Buns, and Hampstead Heath by Paula Panich

Duck by Eileen Shields

Food for Thought by Kathryn Jenkins

Playing Mass by Catherine Scherer

My Big Fat Orthodox Thanksgiving by Ruth Carmel

The Astrophysics of a Sandwich by Raychelle Heath

Tantric Chicken by Mara A. Cohen Marks

Full by Kelly Ferguson

Monkey Eve by Carolyn Phillips

Capon by Natasha Sajé

The Paella Perplex by Jeannette Ferrary

The Right to Eat by JT Torres

This Isn't Supposed to Happen in the Morning by Heather Hartley

Recipe for Winter by Khristopher Flack

Step One by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Flour Fool Meets Great Poet and Pie Instructor by Amy Halloran

Everett by Jason Bell

The Intrigue of Aaron Barthel by Kristy Leissle

Personal Sugar Defense Kit by Sari M. Boren

Kitchen Tirade by Eric LeMay

Eat Dessert First by Iris Graville

Parsley by Natasha Sajé

American Zen Breakfast by Dick Allen

This May Make You [Sic] by Paul Graham

Prisoner's Thai Noodles by Byron Case

Lavender Fields by Susan Goodwin

Ménage à Fongo by Kathryn Miles

All That She Could Make with Flour by Katherine Jameison

Weasel by John Gutekanst

Into the Deep Freeze by Jason Anthony

Defining Gluten by Ann Lightcap Bruno

The Text(ure) of Pleasure by Tara Deal

On the Perils of Food-Buying in a Foreign Land by Tony Eprile

This May Make You [Sic]

Items from the Menus and Cookbooks of Editorially-Challenged
A Compilation, With Digressions and Commentary

by Paul Graham

April 2013    

I have a friend who, while standing in line at an Albany Dunkin’ Donuts one morning, heard the woman in front of him ask, without irony, for a “barbarian cream donut.” This request apparently failed to register dismay with the person working the counter, who simply reached for a Bavarian crème and slipped it into a bag. Either that, or the staff at Dunkin’ go through pretty serious sensitivity-training.

I would have given this woman her barbarian cream donut had I been working there, but only after telling her she must first don some animal skins, burn the place to the ground, rob all of the customers, slaughter a few with her bare hands, and make the rest her slaves.

*

This same friend later passed a sign in a butcher shop window advertising a sale on “Roast Pork Lion.”

Henceforth this cut of meat has been known in our kitchen as “King of the Barnyard,” and greater Albany, NY, as representative of our national copyediting skills.

*

While driving past a summer festival in our village park one day, I spotted a kitchen trailer that served hotdogs, hamburgers, and “Fried Doe.” Not outside the realm of possibility, I supposed, as ours is a rural community and hunting is popular. I wanted to order some Fried Doe, just to see what I got: a funnel cake, or a breaded chunk of venison steak (with juniper berry garnish!)? The event had ended when we came back that way later on, though.

Call me a pessimist, but I’m betting I’d have gotten dessert, not deer.

*

Another friend, host of a popular world music radio program, hit paydirt at a roadside stand’s sandwich board: “Corn, Peppers, Beats.” Not a bad substitution, given the shady reputation beets have in American kitchens (many people don’t know what to do with them). He snapped a picture for the Beat Authority Blog.

*

Spotted in a butcher shop window near Brushton, NY: “We have fresh leaks.” Bad news.

*

A student of mine claims to like chicken stalk. I, too, would enjoy seeing such a plant.

*

I’m sorry, Larry, I like your fish market, I really do, but you push me to the edge sometimes. I see you have “Oyster’s” today. And I cannot help but wonder: Oyster’s what? Oyster’s shells? Oyster’s sand? Oyster’s bicycles? Oh, never mind. Just give me a thick piece of sockeye.

*

Our local Amish, similarly, employ the carpet-bombing method of apostrophying: “Jam’s, Jelly’s, Vegetable’s, Basket’s… ”—all for sale from their carts on the roadside, and all having something they wish to give us…

*

A woman at a restaurant in town asked if the chef had prepared a “vicious sauce” that night. Apparently she’d had this nasty condiment before and was hoping to sample it again. The waitress balked.

“I beg your pardon. ‘Vicious sauce?’”

“Yeah, you know, the cold potato soup?”

“Oh! Vichyssoise! Chilled potato-leek!”

“Whatever.” She spoke into the menu. “Do you have it or not?”

*

Hear that? That groan, that clicking of bones? Escoffier just rose from the dead and banged his head on the lid of his casket.

*

And these are just the gaffes I know of, mistakes I’ve noted recently in my own town, or recall hearing from friends. It’s hardly a representative sample. I could, in fact, be assailed for a faulty inductive leap.

But we know better than that. We know we do.

*

Indulgent Rant: Of all food-related words, I cannot abide delish, yummy, or tasty. Everyone has irrational aversions, and these are mine. The former sounds self-consciously hip and typographically lazy. The middle should only appear in children’s songs provided I am not in the room to hear them. The latter, I am aware, is indeed a word, but it is a stupid word. “Tasty” is the adjectival form of “taste.” Everything except distilled water has taste. Even unpleasant and insipid tastes are “tasty” inasmuch as they stimulate those regions of the brain that determine whether something is pleasant, unpleasant, or poisonous. I know I swim against the tides here, and I will admit that these words are innocuous compared to pigs crossbred with lions and donuts that swing battleaxes. So I yield.

*

What, by the way, is a “prototypical sandwich?” I encountered this phrase on the Food Network. Wouldn’t this have to be the first sandwich the deli ever made, an experimental sandwich on which they’ll base improvements? Such culinary R&D does happen, albeit at state fairs, with a combination of deep-fried materials and condiments that no person not under the influence of psychotropics would ever dream up, and in fast-food test-kitchens.

These prototypers mean, I think, the quintessential sandwich, or maybe even the eponymous sandwich. But they have no idea what prototypical means, except that it sounds like “typical” but cooler for the Greekish “proto,” so why the hell not? (Isn’t “quintessential” just as cool a word?) There are prototypical everythings these days: centerfielders, guitar players, banks, pizzas. The word has spread so pervasively it may even have undergone what linguists call a “semantic shift:” the original definition, while not lost forever (someone still makes true prototypes) is obscured by the malapropism’s migration into everyday speech. Prototyping is a virus, like manic apostrophying, passed through the ambient air.

*

The Amish apostrophe-bombardiers get a pass, though, having their own educational system, goals, and, indeed, cosmology. They live nearby, but they school their children and pass their time differently. In fact, they’re avid readers, which is always a hopeful sign. I see them reclining in their wagons with the newspaper, waiting on the side of the road for customer’s [sic, sic, sic]. I won’t hold them accountable, not knowing anything about their pedagogy.

*

What I do know is that the Amish did not come up with “Roobarb:” Australian variety of the familiar plant, the bitter stalks of which are delicious in pies, crisps, and compotes, but which must be pursued nimbly, as they hop away.

*

On the other hand, William Faulkner, a maniac for neologisms if ever there was one, coined “supperward.” In Light In August, the day’s last whistle sends the men at the planing mill in Jefferson supperward, home to their wives and a hot meal. (My compass needle always points supperward, or breakfastward, though rarely lunchward, as it’s a meal I tend to skip.)

*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American adult’s collective per diem reading time is 7 minutes and 48 seconds (about enough time to read, and comprehend, one sentence by Faulkner). By contrast, we spend 2 hours and 52 minutes engaged in “leisure” activities, most likely in these times Facebook and other social media (which—admit it—doesn’t count as reading). We average one hour and 34 minutes in front of the TV. Our average daily time spent cooking, by the way, is not even enough time to boil a pot of brown rice—19 minutes, 48 seconds—but that’s another essay.

*

It was Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, that patron saint of culinary writing, who intoned (or so I imagine), “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

*

Found in translation, then: “Tell me what you eat/read/watch/listen to, and I will tell you what you are. Tell me what you consume, and I will tell you what you are.”

*

Unsettlingly, Brillat-Savarin also argued that the fate of a country, its people, rests on what it eats, by which he really meant how it eats. At first I took this for typical French foppery. Then I remembered that The Physiology of Taste is partly a parody of early 19th century science writing, and thus to be received with the proverbial salt on your tongue. Then I encountered a news report on the U.S. Army’s need to lower physical fitness standards because the average young American recruit cannot survive basic training. No doubt this owes to all that TV and Facebook, and all that barbarian cream.

Found in translation: A country’s fate rests wholly on what it consumes.

*

But from the bearded mouths of the Amish, from the vicious-sauce fan, from the armies of perfectly-contented nonreaders, comes this question: Why sweat the misuse, man? Language shifts; words morph; usage changes. This happens for a reason, and not one as simple as how we spend our leisure time, what we do or do not read, or how we school our children. Go with the flow! Dare to punctuate in a new way! Misusages are colorful, they’re fun! So what if Barbaria doesn’t exist (oh, but it does, and I know where it is…)?

*

Furthermore, when forced to walk the plank of honesty, I’ll admit I’ve misused words and terminology. I’m far from perfect. I’ve made hilarious gaffes at the hardware store, the auto parts store, places where I’ve got no right to do anything but beg pity, and where someone has patiently waited for me to stop talking so they could show me what I really came for.

*

Example: I heard a farmer railing about a college volunteer who came to his farm and tried to dig an irrigation trench with a flat-headed coal shovel. Now that, this farmer said, was dumber than a bag of hammers. I agreed, and added that I knew the difference, then watched as he nodded skeptically.

*

As well, some of these word-manglers are my friends. Or friends of my friends. Or could be my friends. Perfectly nice people. Who happen to feed me, by the way.

*

Who, we might ask, has time to read after butchering chickens for eight hours? Who can focus on grammar when your body is so tired after weeding onions and harvesting potatoes and washing machinery and packing Swiss chard that you can actually lie down and fall asleep right on the floorboards? And those who don’t farm, who run suburbia’s gauntlet—they’re slogging it too, I guess. Yet, when the fire whistle goes off, summoning these same men and women who are always the volunteers to the waiting rigs, they’ll jump up; they’ll pull on their clothes; and off they’ll go, returning from the house fire reeking of cinders just in time to milk the cows.

*

But Barbarian crème? Really?

*

Perhaps my gripe is that we all use language, unlike coal shovels, every day. Or it could be I’m just obsessive, though I don’t think so. Ignorance might signify, as Brillat-Savarin suggests, and so we’re all screwed, imperiled by our inability to think precisely, carefully, and critically—whether about food, tools, or words. This is an old warning, though. Our means of dissemination are just more efficient. We’re all still here, after all, most of us.

Maybe I’m simply greedy. People who love food often have an avaricious streak. Just as I want it all at the table, I want us all to clear the clutter and garbage away from our lives. I want us to have room to think. I want my beets to be beets. I want my donuts to hail from Bavaria, my doe to leap through the early-morning mist (and then land on my plate, pan-seared rare or prepared au Bourgogne, not deep-fried), and my leeks—indeed, the whole menu of life’s offerings and possibilities—I want them to grow tall and strong, firmly rooted to grounds that nourish them.



  Paul Graham is the author of Crazy Season, a collection of short stories released by Kitsune Books in 2012. His essays on food and culture have appeared in previously Alimentum, The Best Food Writing 2012, and GRAZE. He lives well and eats better on New York's Canadian border, and teaches writing and literature at St. Lawrence University.

Photo used under Creative Commons.