Today is the birthday (1902) of Ogden Nash, poet and humorist. Nash was born in Rye, New York, but because of the obligations of his father’s import-export company, the family relocated often. They lived briefly in Savannah, GA in a carriage house owned by Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. After graduating from St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, Nash entered Harvard University in 1920, but dropped out a year later. He returned to St. George’s to teach for a year, then left to work his way through a series of other jobs, eventually landing a position as an editor at Doubleday publishing house, where he first began to write verse. Nash moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1934 where he lived until his death in 1971. Nash came to think of Baltimore as home. After his return from a brief move to New York, he wrote “I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more.”
His first job in New York was as a writer of streetcar card ads for a company that previously had employed another Baltimore resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nash loved to rhyme. “I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old,” he once said in an interview. He had a fondness for crafting his own words whenever rhyming words did not exist, or just for the fun of it. Nash is known not only for his inventive rhymes, but also for his creatively uneven meters.
In 1931 he married Frances Leonard. He published his first collection of poems, Hard Lines, that same year, earning him national recognition. In the interests of full disclosure I’ll admit I am not a big fan of Nash. Much of his work reminds me of that annoying uncle at Christmas parties who is always telling lame jokes that rely on bad puns. But I will say that he hits the mark for me once in a while, and I applaud his social commentary. Here’s some examples of the latter:
“The door of a bigoted mind opens outwards so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it is to close it more snugly.”
“Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long”
“People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up.”
“I do not like to get the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.”
“People who have what they want are fond of telling people who haven’t what they want that they really don’t want it.”
I will say, too, that I approve of his conversion of sappy sentiments into something more insightful (by my lights). The classic example is his conversion of Joyce Kilmer (“only God can make a tree”) from,
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
into . . .
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
Nash wrote about food both in short couplets and longer pieces:
One cantaloupe is ripe and lush,
Another’s green, another’s mush.
I’d buy a lot more cantaloupe
If I possessed a fluoroscope
Develops the jaw,
But celery, stewed,
Is more quietly chewed
Let us call Yorkshire pudding
A fortunate blunder;
It’s a sort of popover
That tripped and popped under.
Toward a better world I contribute my modest smidgin;
I eat the squab, lest it become a pigeon.
I don’t mind eels
Except as meals.
“The Clean Platter” is his longest food poem with stanzas of alternating meters. Here is an excerpt:
Go purloin a sirloin, my pet,
If you’d win a devotion incredible;
And asparagus tips vinaigrette,
Or anything else that is edible.
Bring salad or sausage or scrapple,
A berry or even a beet.
Bring an oyster, an egg, or an apple,
As long as it’s something to eat.
Nash had Crohn’s disease in later life and died from a flare up caused by improperly prepared coleslaw. So I’ll not use a recipe for that as a tribute, even though he might appreciate the irony. Instead I’ll pluck scrapple from the stanza above. Scrapple is a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour, sometimes buckwheat flour, and spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices are then pan fried until crisp and browned on the sides before serving. Traditionally, scraps of meat left over from butchering, not used or sold elsewhere, were made into scrapple to avoid waste. Scrapple is best known as a rural food of the Mid-Atlantic states (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia). It is probably of Pennsylvania Dutch origin. It’s good as a breakfast meat, served on its own with maple syrup, or with eggs and hash browns.
1 ½ lbs (750 g) pork butt, cut into large chunks
2 whole fresh pork hocks
½ white onion, peeled
1 stalk celery, chopped in half
½ tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tsps ground black pepper
2 tsps kosher salt
1 tsp dried sage
1 cup white cornmeal
1 cup yellow cornmeal
clarified butter, for pan frying
maple syrup, for serving (optional)
Put the pork butt, hocks, onion, celery, peppercorns and bay leaf in a stock pot. Cover with water and simmer over low heat, covered, until the pork is tender and the meat falls off the bones, about 2 hours.
Drain and reserve the stock. Put the solid contents onto a sheet pan so that you can easily discard the celery, onions, peppercorns, bay leaf and bones from the hocks
Add the meat to a food processor and pulse to chop. Don’t over grind it.
Measure 5 cups (1 lt) of stock and return it to the pot with the meat, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and sage. Bring to a simmer over low heat.
Add the cornmeal and stir constantly until well blended. Simmer until smooth and thick, about 15 minutes or so. Add a little stock or water, if needed, to ensure a smooth texture.
Pour into a loaf pan and refrigerate until solid, preferably overnight.
Unmold, slice, and fry in clarified butter until golden brown.
Yield: about 8 thick slices.