Anu, Elmer, and Helen

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January 29, 2018 by libroshombre


Texas Monthly Magazine’s January Bum Steer awards are a New Year tradition in which the worst of the worst are lambasted. There was a bumper crop to choose from this year, but this January’s issue also contained an article about a nicer Texas New Year tradition: eating lucky black-eyed peas. Spins on the concept abound in the South; some eat at least 365 peas to enjoy a full-year of luck, while others cook their peas with collard greens and coins to bring bills and change in the coming year. Eating black-eyed peas on January 1st also connotes humility, for the legumes are considered by some to be only fit for animal fodder. Those poor souls have obviously never been served the New Year delicacy known as Texas caviar, but first we need to consider Sissy Spacek’s uncle Elmore.

Also the father of actor Rip Torn, Elmore Torn worked for the East Texas Chamber of Commerce in the 1930s, where he founded the Black-Eyed Pea Appreciation Society to gain a wider culinary acceptance for the vegetable. Membership in the BEPAS cost only a penny, and in 1937 they had thousands of black-eyed peas processed and “sent celebrities and reporters a small can with a story about how peas were not only lucky, but offered a noble dish of humility every table needed.,” according to a article, “How a Texan Taught America to Eat Lucky Black-Eyed Peas.”

In 1940 Helen Corbitt, a noted New York foodie, taught catering and restaurant management at the University of Texas in Austin before became Director of Food Service at Neiman Marcus’s Zodiac Room in Dallas. According to Texas Monthly, “in the years b.c. (before Corbitt), Texans had no artichokes, no fresh raspberries, no herbs except decorative parsley, only beef (chicken-fried, barbecued, or well-done), potatoes (fried or mashed and topped with a glop of cream gravy), and wedges of iceberg with sweet orange dressing. Fruit salad meant canned pears or pineapple with a dollop of mayonnaise and a grating of cheddar cheese. Canned asparagus was a remarked-upon delicacy, as were LeSueur canned peas. The introduction of the TV dinner in the fifties would be a step up for some households.” But in 1940 Corbitt was “new to the state and tasked with preparing a fancy dinner using only locally grown foods, almost met her match in the humble cowpeas, which she was none too fond of. Hoping to make them both posh and palatable, she pickled the little devils and unwittingly created one of the Lone Star State’s favorite party dishes.” Of course they were served at Casa Hill last week to the delight of all.

January Word of the Year (WOTY) announcements have become traditional, too, and this year’s choice by is a lulu: “youthquake.” It’s defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people,” and, as pointed out by the headline, “The Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year Is a Word Nobody Actually Uses.” I prefer their runner up WOTY: “milkshake duck.” They define this as “a person or character on social media that appears to be endearing at first, but is found to have an unappealing backstory.” It’s named after an Internet meme created by Australian cartoonist Ben Ward when he posted the line “The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! 5 seconds later we regret to inform you the duck is racist.”

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition I intend to re-embrace. I’m old enough to believe that last resolutions are only achievable if they’re not overly painful. 15 years ago I resolved to read a year of 17th century Samuel Pepys’ Diary, reading that’s day’s activities each evening before bed. That was so pleasurable it lasted for the ten years (1659-1669) Pepys’ kept his diary. He wrote in code and listed everything from the Great Plague and London Fire to bowel movements and his determined efforts to seduce barmaids. This year I resolve to read each of Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day daily postings in 2018.

            This resolution was bolstered by reading last week’s entry’s where Gard wrote, “we have chosen the letter L to go on leave for a few days. You’ll notice it’s absent from all the words featured in A.Word.A.Day this week. That’s because we’re celebrating No el.” Despite the pun, the list included some goodies, such as “crackjaw:hard to pronounce,” and “hypercathexis: excessive concentration of mental energy on something.” Pronouncing hypercathexis (hy-puhr-kuh-THEK-sis) can cause it.

Many people resolve to read more, and especially to read deeply. Resolving to visit the library regularly can bring this about. Spend a half hour browsing the new books or shelves, check out a couple of likely suspects, and then bring them back when they’re due, leaving time to pick out a couple more.

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