An approach to good food

There are things I’ve not done I need to do but likely won’t; things I needed to do, did, should do again but probably never will; things I did I should do again that I will do; and things I haven’t done but hope to get around to — someday.

One of the things I hope to get around to someday is eating slowly.

Eating fast wastes time — some of the best time. Time savoring food. I don’t want to waste any time, as I have less and less of it and fewer and fewer occasions to savor it — even when not savoring food.

Take, for example, apple pie. One with a flaky crust, made with crisp, full-flavored apples, such as Wolf Rivers or Northern Spys. Perfection is when those apples are melded with sugar, cinnamon, and other spices in proportions guided by years of experience.

My aunt Bet made pies like that. She won blue ribbons at county fairs where she entered apple pies not quite good enough to serve her family.

Why devour such perfections quickly? Why not take your time — as much time as you can spare? What purpose can be served consuming such deliciousness before allowing ample time for the addition of a scoop of ice cream?

But people do waste that time, and, with the exception of my aunt Bet’s apple pie, I’ve been among them.

I’ve come to believe that the speed with which we consume our food is a measure of our adjustment to life beyond that consumption. I know it’s been true for me. I need to slow down, not only to better enjoy food but to add garnish to life.

There are, however, exceptions to this garnish-addition rule — I’ll call him “Bill” — Bill was a high school classmate.

Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, when I frequented the Alpena High School cafeteria, Margaret Bell, Hazel Dutcher, Bess Plowman, Leona Spain, and Eliza White would, on select occasions, turn the magic of their collective culinary skills to the preparation of spaghetti, meatballs, and fresh-baked french bread.

On such occasions, Bill, exiting the chow line with his tray piled high, would remove both himself and tray to an out-of-the-way location. There, he would pause briefly to reflect upon his good fortune before turning his attention to his expectations. When he did, Bill would roll up his shirt sleeves and move his wristwatch up his arm to a higher, safer location.

Every meal those five fine ladies prepared was the product of their fondness for Bill and the rest of us adolescent boys and girls for whom they labored. But, as youths so often do, we took their caring for granted — a caring for which we paid 45 cents a meal — $2 a week.

None of us knew how good we had it — except, of course, Bill.

Though Bill’s mealtime took considerable time, most of that time was hurried — consuming, returning, obtaining, consuming, then again returning for yet another serving — all the while smiling — his sleeves rolled up with his wristwatch on a bicep.

For Bill, the fulfillment inherent in a meal of spaghetti and meatballs — as hurried as it may be — provided all the garnish he needed.

Now, Bill and the rest of us have to be more careful. Those cafeteria ladies never served us anything lacking in truth’s nutritional value, but many current menu offerings are suspect — filled with attitude, not fondness.

We may have to adopt some of Bill’s tray-clearance techniques to a different purpose — consumption avoidance. Much of what is currently offered should be discarded — scraped off our trays into the trash.

In doing so, I suggest we roll up our sleeves and set our watches upward.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Satudays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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