Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More Plums

The fresh plums are fine, too.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I have tried to find more poems from the same steamy canning kitchen as Ted Kooser’s Applesauce. While looking, I did stumble upon recipe poems. Apparently, composing recipe poems is a popular assignment in some poetry classes these days. However, the tradition goes back farther than I would have thought.

Take Sydney Smith (1771-1845). The English writer and clergyman Sydney Smith has been described as “a man of restless ingenuity and activity”:

Recipe for a Salad

To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes,
passed through kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give.

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.

Four times the spoon with oil from Lucca brown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soupcion of anchovy sauce.

O, green and glorious! O herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat:
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
"Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day."

Social activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) got on the bandwagon with this offering:

Breakfast Dish

Cut smoothly from a wheaten loaf
Ten slices, good and true,
And brown them nicely, o'er the coals,
As you for toast would do.

Prepare a pint of thickened milk,
Some cod-fish shredded small;
And have on hand six hard-boiled eggs,
Just right to slice withal.

Moisten two pieces of the bread,
And lay them in a dish,
Upon them slice a hard-boiled egg,
Then scatter o'er with fish.

And for a seasoning you will need
Of pepper just one shake,
Then spread above the milky juice,
And this one layer make.

And thus, five times, bread, fish and egg,
Or bread and egg and fish,
Then place one egg upon the top,
To crown this breakfast dish.


Doggerel, these recipe poems may be. They did serve a useful purpose for someone unable to read (or even buy) a cook-book, but who could learn to recite a rhyming recipe.

Here’s one more tortured example from the Nebraska prairie:

"When a well-bred girl expects to wed,
'tis well to remember that men like bread.
We're going to show the steps to take,
so she may learn good bread to bake.

First, mix a lukewarm quart, my daughter,
one-half of milk and one-half of water;
to this please add two cakes of yeast,
or the liquid kind if preferred in the least.
"Next stir in a teaspoonful of nice clear salt,
if this bread isn't good, it won't be our fault.

Now add the sugar, tablespoons three;
mix well together, for dissolved they must be.
Pour the whole mixture into an earthen bowl,
a pan's just as good, if it hasn't a hole.

It's the cook and the flour, not the bowl or the pan,
that 'makes the bread that makes the man.'
"Now let the mixture stand a minute or two,
you've other things of great importance to do.

First sift the flour use, the finest in the land.
Three quarts is the measure, 'Gold Medal' the brand.
Next stir the flour into the mixture that's stood,
waiting to play its part, to make the bread good.

Mix it up thoroughly, but not too thick;
some flours make bread that's more like a brick.
"Now grease well a bowl and put the dough in,
don't fill the bowl full, that would be a sin'
for the dough is all right and it's going to rise,
till you will declare that it's twice its size.

Brush the dough with melted butter, as the recipes say;
cover with a bread towel, set in a warm place to stay
two hours or more, to rise until light,
when you see it grow, you'll know it's all right.

"As soon as it's light place again on a board;
knead it well this time. Here is knowledge to hoard.
Now back in the bowl once more it must go,
and set again to rise for an hour or so.

Form the dough gently into loaves when light,
and place it in bread pans greased just right.
Shape each loaf you make to half fill the pan,
this bread will be good enough for any young man.

"Next let it rise to the level of pans--no more,
have temperature right, don't set near a door.
We must be careful about draughts; it isn't made to freeze,
keep the room good and warm--say seventy-two degrees.

Now put in the oven--it's ready to bake—
keep uniform fire, great results are at stake.
One hour more of waiting and you'll be repaid,
by bread that is worthy 'a well bred maid.'"


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