This is an entry for the Kitchen Corner’s “Cook off” wherein I try to capture the moment I fell in love with food.
My love for food started when I started reading. As a child I spent most of my free time reading.
I consumed books late into the night, straining my eyes with a low lamp, and risking the wrath of a parent who wanted me well-rested for the day of school coming.
On Saturdays I threw my hands up with disgust when my mother interrupted me to require some chore—like vacuuming the stairs. I hated vacuuming the stairs. I would grit my teeth and scream, quietly so she couldn’t hear but loud enough to feel rebellious, “You ALWAYS interrupt me at the good part!”
I was always at the good part. Because I was always reading.
I had read every book in my house at least twice,
but, the ones I came back to again and again,
I savored those books.
The White Mountains made my mouth water at coffee and hard biscuits, as Will took refuge on a ship while escaping the Tripods. I had no idea what liverwurst was, but I wanted to reach in and steal that tomato and liverwurst sandwich Meg makes for her mother in the beginning scenes of A Wrinkle in Time. On his journey to pick up the dogs he ordered, Billy roasts a piece of salt pork and an egg to make a cornbread sandwich in Where the Red Fern Grows.
These were all foods I had never eaten or even seen. I only imagined that the hunger that these characters felt had never been better sated.
These dreamed meals were often homey and made in simple kitchens. They appealed to basic tastes of salt, sugar, and fat but they tasted, in my food memory, complex. Bitter coffee was a taboo in my house but in elementary school I breathed deeply when I walked by the teacher’s steaming mug, and have always savored that rich smell. The sweet acidic drip of the tomato slid under my tongue when Meg’s mother eats her sandwich in the kitchen light of night discussion. I felt kinship with Billy when he chews that salty sizzling egg sandwich, and chews the dry and wet layers together. I imagine him thoughtful at a campfire and the smoke adding a savory angle to the plateless meal.
My list of food memory associations in books I had read was longer than the number of foods I had eaten in real life.
Even now, the stroke of taste from a book is never as good as the ones in real life, however incredible the chef. At Nobu, I recently had a sous vide pork belly with a browned edge topped with jalapeno salsa. That bite was just perfect, but it will never match up to fill the hunger created by a thermos’d cream of tomato soup, lobster salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread, celery, carrots, black olives, two plums, a tiny basket of cherries, a cardboard shaker of salt, and vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles that Frances has in Russell Hoban’s classic Bread and Jam for Frances.
As Albert says: “That’s a good lunch.”
A lunch worth three Michelin stars, in my book.
This creation is based on some of the tastes I imagine in Billy’s campfire meal of salt pork, egg, and cornbread. I think the play on sweet/salty/savory created by the “monte cristo” effect is something that stays locked in my hungry memory.
makes about 3 "sandwiches”
For the pancakes
- 2/3 Cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/3 Cup flour
- 2/3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 C buttermilk
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg
- extra unsalted butter to grease the pan
- Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk together until combined—but do not over mix.
- Put a pat of butter into the pan and grease liberally. When the pan is hot, pour in about 1/3 C (maybe a little more) of the batter for each pancake—probably can fit in three at a time. When the top has a few bubbles and the edges look like they are starting to dry, flip and cook on the other side for about 30 more seconds.
- Repeat with remaining batter.
For the sandwiches
- 9 thin slices of ham
- 3 eggs
- 3 two-oz slices of salty, hard cheese—I used comte
- 2 Tablespoons guava jam (other jams would work here, or even molasses)
- After cooking the pancakes, butter the pan again and put the ham into the pan and warm on both sides. After removing the ham, cook the 3 eggs as you wish (over easy is good here).
- Assemble the sandwiches while all your ingredients are still hot. Lay the first pancake on the plate and top with a piece of cheese. Put 3 slices of ham and 1 egg on top of that, and spread some jam on the 2nd pancake for the top (either putting the jam face down or up as desired). Repeat with the rest of the ingredients. Serve while hot.
My favorite fiction books for adults that also happen to have succulent food scenes: (links to Goodreads)
What’s your favorite food scene from a book?