Friday, February 15, 2008

Hot stuff!

250 years ago, February 15, 1758, the Philadelphia Chronicle published the first known advertisement for mustard on the American continent:
BENJAMIN JACKSON, Mustard and Chocolate maker, from London, now of Laetitia-Court, in Market-Street, Philadelphia, Prepares the genuine Flour of Mustard-seed, of all Degrees of Fineness, in a Manner that renders it preferable to the European, or any other, which is easily demonstrated by Proof. It excels all other for Exportation, and it will keep perfectly good any reasonable Time, even in the hottest Climates, and is not bitter when fresh made, as other Mustard is, but when mixed only with cold Water, well seasoned with Salt, is fit for immediate Use.
Malcolm has a liking for American mustard. It comes in nice squeezy bottles, and it is quite mild. It's not as nice as good Norfolk mustard, of course, especially on the best cured ham, but it's a fair effort.

His mustard addiction comes being an impoverished student in Dublin, in the early 1960s. When he had the necessity, after the cinema perhaps, to impress or merely to extend the shared company of a significant other, it was statutory to repair to the Paradiso restaurant, now long gone but then upstairs in Westmoreland Street. Malcolm would be well aware that this investment would require an off-setting subsequent day of starvation: therefore, it was vital to top up on whatever was going. That amounted, in the main, to the freely available French mustard.

When Malcolm is across the Atlantic, and takes his breakfast at the Milburn Diner, the yellow squirter is an essential addition to his morning omelette-and-whatever. Which raises three recollections in Malcolm's stream-of-semi-consciousness:
  • Why is it he can never win (or even run a tie) in the elemental contest between customer and server, waged at every American table?
Malcolm: Coffee and toast, please.
Server: Plain? Decaff?
Malcolm: Oh, plain, please. (That was merely the softener, the ranging shot. Makes you think you can win this one. Next time there will be at least three more options: these are indexed in the Server's manual under "Starbucks Offence").
Server: Do you want your toast white, brown, wholemeal ... (and at least a dozen more options, which will involve cinnamon and other exotic substances).
Malcolm: Brown, thank you. (He's still in the contest)
Then you have to address the question of how your egg is presented. Don't even try to win that round. And at some point maple syrup gets introduced.

Malcolm is a game guy, but he hasn't won this one yet: he can barely claim the odd honourable draw.
  • Next we should consider the time he collected his American son-in-law at Heathrow, from an overnight flight.
Said son-in-law had a yen for an Egg McMuffin. There then ensued a classic, and wholly uneven contest between a worldly-wise, street-savvy Brooklyn boy (turned Manhattan Executive) and your average McJobber.

The issue was Egg McMuffins could only be served until 10 a.m.: it was now 10.07 a.m.

Son-in-law was still eating his second Egg McMuffin as the A40 led onto the North Circular. It represented an Olympian standard of server-control to which Malcolm can only dream of aspiring.
Then there was Malcolm's greatest culinary embarrassment. The passing mention of Salzberg still brings him out in a sweat.
  • Malcolm and his lady (an erstwhile "significant other" at the Paradiso) had arranged to meet eldest daughter, then working in the Slovak Republic, in Salzberg. Meeting successfully achieved, all retreated to a convenient bar for refreshment. Malcolm's choice of ham came accompanied with some exotic vegetable, a shredded and creamed celeriac, most likely. An interesting choice of vegetable, mused Malcolm as he shovelled a large forkful into his mouth.
Alas! Appearances are deceptive. It was not some mild and house-trained vegetable. It was high-octane horseradish. Now, Malcolm knew horse-raddish from what grew in his Norfolk grand-mawther's chicken run. That was eye-wateringly strong; but it was as nothing compared to the industrial-strength, tongue-swelling Salzberger variety.

The amazing thing is that the surrounding Salzberger clientele didn't as much as twitch as Malcolm expletived in at least four languages, sank a large stein, demanded more, and yet more soothing liquid, then sat in total stupified trauma for several minutes.
So here's to Mr Benjamin Jackson, Messrs Jeremiah and James Colman (who famously made their fortunes from what was left on the side of the plate) and all similar condiment-pioneers. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good 'un, Malc.

Keep 'em coming.

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