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C. M E R T O N B A B C O C K Michigan State University Mark Twain’s Chuck-Wagon Specialties Mark Twain had a pampered taste for good food, and, although not strictly a gourmet, he appreciated the difference between whole­ some edibles and the insalubrious messes that passed for vittles in public eating houses. “I have a neat talent in matters pertaining to nourishment,” he would say. “This has met with professional recognition.” Furthermore, he admitted that he had often “fur­ nished recipes for cook-books.” Perhaps in sheer desperation. Brought up as he was on good Southern cooking, the famous humorist knew perfectly well what a beefsteak should taste like. Also, he was no stranger to real, honest-to-god fried chicken, hot biscuits, country butter and all such succulent comestibles. But, as soon as he struck out on his own, away from his Aunt Patsy’s peach cobblers and his mother’s fricasseed and pan-fried master­ pieces, he discovered to his unmasked chagrin that a square meal, in a restaurant, is as difficult to come by as is an oyster in the stew at a church bazaar. It gradually dawned on him that, for the most part, the world is in a hopeless state of gastronomic mayhem, at the mercy of atrocious cooks and malicious grub-wagon jockies. While there was “plenty of good food” in evidence, it appeared to be “furnished by the Deity and cooked by the devil.” At Angel’s Camp, California, during his mining career, Mark Twain was introduced to a conglomeration of inedible concoctions that threatened to jeopardize his eternal soul. The French Restau­ rant served nothing, for example, but beans and coffee three times a day, for breakfast, dinner and supper. The beans suffered from an advanced case of pernicious anemia, and the coffee as Jim Gillis told the waiter, was “day-before-yesterday’s dish-water.” Here are the unappetizing details, as recorded in Mark Twain’s Notebook: Jan. 23, 1865. Angels. Rainy, stormy, beans and dish-water, for breakfast at the Frenchman's; dish-water and beans for dinner, and both articles warmed over for supper. 148 Western American Literature 24th Rained all day—meals as before. 25th Same as above. 26th Rain, beans and dish-water—beefsteak for a change—no use, couldn’t bite it. 27th Same old diet—same old weather—went out to the “pocket” claim, had to rush back. 28th Rain and wind all day and all night. Chilibeans and dish­ water three times today as usual and some kind of “slum” which the Frenchman called “hash.” Hash be damned! 29th The old, old thing. We shall have to stand the weather, but as J. (Jim Gillis) says we won’t stand the dish-water and beans any longer, by God. 30th Jan.—Moved to the new hotel . . -1 A few days later, Mark and Jim took their friend Dick Stoker to the Frenchman’sfor a “treat” knowing that the outrageous cuisine —filtered sewage and whistle-berries—would shatter his intestinal fortitude and conquer his gastric intrepidity. It did! On this occasion, in addition to the old standby, there was “Hell-fire soup,” one of the chef’s blue-ribbon stews, which smelled like buzzard’s breath and tasted worse. Some of the other stews were popularly known, among the boarders, as “General Debility,” “Insanity,” and “Sudden Death”—all “calculated to insult a cannibal.” After a number of unsavory experiences of this kind, Mark Twain began to invent some dishes of his own, which he deemed would be most appropriate for American boarding-house menus: “Tough Tripe —overdue, underdone, garnished with garlic”; “Minced Cat—Mayonnaise Sauce”; “Dog Chops with peas”; “Chops from Lambs which had died of old age”; “Salami of Rat—Sauce Robert”; “Sailor Boots, softened with tallow—served raw”; “Samsonian Butter, strong in its hair.” Nor was the customary fodder any better in Europe. “A man accustomed to American food and American domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe,” the author said, “but I think he would gradually waste away and eventually die.” European “coffee,” at best, was a “down-at-the-heels,” foggy brew...


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