What Makes My Mouth Water



AS I was saying to my son only yesterday, Forsan et haec dim meminisse iuvabit — winch means, It still makes my mouth water to think of McIntyre and Heath, the Georgia Minstrels, as their 1896 variety act was called, McIntyre, as Alexander, had been taken away from dat live’y stable by the glib Heath, to be a minstrel; they were stranded on a railway siding; Alexander was urged on by Heath, or Henry, with stories about a biscuit bush and a ham tree; he was further tortured by a description of “roast beef and mashed potatoes, with the gravy — not cornin’ out — no sir, dat gravy was just oozin’ out, Alexander.” That picture had such an effect upon my youthful salivary glands that I could hardly wait until I got home for supper — I never grew to the sophisticated point of speaking naturally of dinner in the evening — and if we had roast beef and mashed potatoes that night, life was heaven. It makes my mouth water to think of sitting there in the Olympic Theater, Chicago, listening to the famished McIntyre. (Ten minutes elapse.) I go downstairs to rummage in the icebox or, as the moderns who use these horseless-carriage contraptions call it, the refrigerator. Cold roast beef and raw peas, both wonderful.

A highly susceptible trencherman I. After McIntyre and Heath’s roast beef, there was the Belle of New York. Well do I recall a scene in Huyler’s, and after the matinee I went right over to Huyler’s and got a ten-cent piece of OldFashioned Molasses Candy, which the red curtains said was Fresh Every Hour.

Never have I seen a play in which the actors were at table that I didn’t vicariously sit with them. There was The First Year. And there were Dinner at Fight and You Can’t Take It with You. And those breakfasts in Life with Father! After that opening night in 1939 when I first heard Mr. Day say, “Those kippers are good!” I had kippers the next morning for breakfast, and they were at least as good as the stage fish. And when Mr. Day complained about the coffee, I felt sorry for him, because it was a matter of years before I could convince a cook, although I paid her salary and I paid for the coffee, that I wanted one cup of coffee, and only one, and that one strong, using as much coffee as she would use for three cups of her idea of coffee.

Why, it made me hungry when Weber and Fields used to talk about breakfast, in the days when it was hokum humor to make fun of the uncooked cereal. “You eat dis shredded hay?” said Weber. “Sure,” said Fields. “With plenty of sugar and cream, you could hardly notice it.”


It is those who write about the glories of the table who make my mouth water; those whose literary boards groan beneath the weight of to continue the rural press’s description many toothsome viands. I can’t find that book of Favorite Recipes of Famous Authors, but I remember nothing except the ending of Montague Glass’s bouillabaisse — “God, but I’m hungry!” Many a dinner I had at Glass’s, all of them good.

It isn’t by chance that certain writers like to describe comestibles. Ferberiana, from Dawn O’Hara to the New Orleans markets and restaurants of Saratoga Trunk, are full of goodies; Miss Ferber is just about the eatingest author there is. The autobiographical A Peculiar Treasure often tells what’s cooking. “The soup was served in a tureen. The meat was carved at the table, the vegetables dished. I have that old soup tureen, a creamy china with a tawny oakleaf pattern, I never see it that my mouth doesn’t water. The soup was almost always chicken soup with noodles (hand-rolled, homemade, hair-fine) or beef soup with marrow balls, a clear strong golden brew. When the cover was removed a fragrant steam arose . . . ‘Here comes the soup! Look at this roast stuffed chicken, brown and crisp. I can see the slices melting away from the glittering carving-knife.’” Why, her very titles are hunger-compelling — Roast Beef Medium and Come and Get It.

And today, if you get an invitation to lunch, dinner, or supper at Miss Ferber’s, Upper Stepney, Connecticut, go, unless you prefer a drugstore sandwich, which usually is made of bread discarded by the blotter manufacturers. You get amazingly good stuff at Ferber’s, and plenty, so that if you want three helpings of duck, you have it. You may get a scornful glance from the ethereal guests, whose stare seems to echo a framed motto on the wall of a boardinghouse in the Ann Arbor of the nineties. It was “God Hates a Glutton,” which, if true, automatically endowed all the boarders ($3.50 a week) with heavenly grace.


There are some joys that I don’t get enough of: clams; lobster stew as I once had it at Jake Powers’s where his folks lived near East Sebago, Maine; the fish chowder brewed on Sutton Island, Maine, by the late Rachel Field, which I apostrophized with — sorry, “The Melancholy Lute” is out of print: —

Loud is my praise, or even louder,
For Mrs. Arthur Pederson’s chowder.
It had such qualities and traits
I had to have three brimming plates.

And that reminds me that I have gone on record many times about my loves and hatreds of the table. As for instance: —

For steak that’s rare
I deeply care.
I yell and whisper
For bacon crisper.
To my trust I were false if I
Said I liked salsify.
And I must confess
That I don’t like cress.
For starch of corn
I have but scorn.
An’ boy, Ah sutton—
Ly likes mah mutton.
I always ask twice
For Spanish rice.
But I get sick
At sauces thick.
For goodness’s sake,
Why marble cake?
But sauce caramel?
Mamma! that’s swell!
Drinks with gin
I hate like sin;
But the lyre I strum
For drinks with rum.
For peanut butter
My scorn is utter.
When we have cold lamb
I holler “Damn!”
Nor would I beg
For a hard-boiled egg.
Pudding of rice
Is not so nice;
But pie of plum —
Yum! yum! yum! yum!

Perhaps if or when starvation perching at the horseman’s back will not be unseated, I shall be glad to have a drugstore Sandwich and a cup of drugstore brown-colored hot water, with milk — only, however, if starving. How they assemble these sandwiches I don’t know; or why they think that scalding heat is coffee’s only requisite. Our cook, who long since has known that I like one cup of strong coffee, — and not three of weak, — sat next to me at a performance of Life with Father. When the elder Day asked how coffee beans and water can achieve the brew in his breakfast cup, Delia said, “Just like home, Mr. Adams.” My son Anthony, then fourteen, sat next to me at an earlier performance. Towards the end of the play he finally said, after one of Mr. Day’s outbursts, “Pop, he’s just like you. And he’s right, too.”

There is a difference, of course, between liquids scalding and liquids tepid. I hate soup that is so hot that you can’t taste it, or coffee so hot — the drugstore formula — that you can’t taste it. Cf. the James Whitcomb Riley poem about the coffee “my mother used to make,” ending, “Yer coffee’s mighty hot.” Women! They’re all alike, or worse. From the days when as a child I blew on the soup in my soupspoon, and was reprimanded for same, to yesterday morning when I almost missed the bus — and speaking of the old days, I still can recall when I drove a car to the station for the 7.39 train because I was trying to cool the coffee so as to be able to drink it — from then to now, these women — relations and cooks — have one sentence that puts me in my place. It is: —

“Food should be hot.”

The soldiers of today have good cooks; and in World War I the army’s cooks were good, too. But dozens of times, when I was billeted in some French town, and had to sit at the family table, the woman would always apologize for the paucity of the courses and the meagerness of the portions, not to say the quality. But always a wonderful soup, veal or beef so tender and so flavored that you can’t get it at home like that, and about thirty-five dollars’ worth of oildrenched salad, not to say fruit and cheese. But apologies arc the way of the cook. Alas! Where are those men and women at Neufchâteau and Meaux and Nancy and Boucq and Langres who told us that the Americans were saving France, little dreaming that it was being saved for enslavement.

I am no crank. We were taught to eat what was set before us; and we did, though it usually was excellent. I remember our Sunday breakfasts. One Sunday we had codfish balls — made of codfish, not of potatoes — and baked beans which had been put in the oven Saturday afternoon; and the next Sunday we had scraped beefsteak, with raw eggs on top. Those breakfasts alternated in our house for at least fifteen years. What we knew as Scraped Meat you may now get as Steak Tartare, which is garnished with a lot of lettuce, piccalilli, raw onion, anchovies, and what not. It’s as hard to get it reft of these Persian pomps as it is to get a sandwich unencumbered by wilted lettuce and a fifth-rate pickle. And unless you or somebody who fears your scorn mixes the salad dressing it is too vinegary. It should be about 95 per cent oil. Don’t argue with me.

Remind me sometime to tell you of the consternation, almost calling for a meeting of the board of directors, that it throws a restaurant into if you ask for an apple. Apple sauce, baked apple, apple cake, apple pie, yes. But you’d think the waiters had no knowledge of the fruit whose mortal taste brought death into the world and all our woe. A waiter once confided the trouble, which it seems is terminological. An apple is a Table Apple.