The Hub looked at the objects in the battered tin plate on the counter in front of him and said, “So, who do you think ever thought these were edible?”
I picked up one of the craggy shells and admired the moist, quivering object in the center for about five seconds. Then I slurped it down. A perfect medium-rare steam, just how we like them.
The saying “It Was A Brave Man Who First Et An Oyster” is on a faux-weathered sign in just about every seafood restaurant. I don’t know who said that, or if it was made up by faux-weathered sign manufacturers, but I get the sentiment.
Oysters straight from the water look like mud-encrusted cobblestones. They require a ton of messy work and special equipment before you can achieve just a moment of glorious, salty joy.
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A fish, however, pops right up looking like a protein source that belongs in a frying pan.
But a lot of foods, like oysters, make you wonder just how hungry someone had to be to go after them the first time.
Take crab. Ever picked the meat from a whole steamed crab? That job reminds me of the legend about celery, that you expend as many calories eating it as it provides. After pounding the crab with a hammer, tearing at the shell and going in with metal picks, you’re rewarded with a bite or two of meat. Barely enough to soak up the several beers it took to get through the process.
Then there’s lobster. Ancient man’s first opinion of it might have been, “Good grief, Og, the roaches are big here, and they’ve invaded the ocean!”
The produce world has it’s baffling members, too.
Cacao, which looks like a burnt football hanging from a tree branch, eventually led to fun-size candy bars.
Every time I hack my way into a butternut squash, I wonder who on Earth found one lying around and thought it would make a good dinner. The brick-hard winter squash is shaped like a club, so perhaps that was its early use.
This time each year, the burnished leaves and crisp fall air dazzle me into buying a butternut squash. Visions of warm, gold-orange soup dance before my eyes, or perhaps I see glowing chunks of it in a baked wild rice casserole. Even the name, butternut, sounds fall-ish.
So, clunk – one lands on my kitchen counter.
Job 1: Cut it open. I’ve heard many theories about the best way to get into a butternut without ending up with either a knife immobilized in the middle of it, as if awaiting a tug from King Arthur, or a visit to urgent care. I usually employ a damp towel on the counter; a large, very sharp knife; and entreaties to the squash gods.
Even after I safely get in and remove the seeds, the work’s not over. The peel has to come off because it’s tough and inedible. A sharp knife and time is the only way. Then, I can finally cut the squash into chunks and move on to dinner.
The Battle of the Butternut must be common among cooks because I’ve noticed that supermarket produce sections now offer chunks of the squash in containers, already peeled and hacked up for our convenience.
While it’s definitely more friendly, I’ve found the precut butternut to be either dry or mushy. But I have resorted to it for casseroles when my upper arm strength is lacking. Desperate times, you know.
But the squash makes a wonderful motivation to return to the gym, because, as a sign should say, “It Was a Strong Woman Who First Whacked a Butternut.”