Tuesday, November 27, 2012 • 6:43 PM Post a Comment

Nothing Says Home Like a Good Condiment

posted by Caleb Rounds

I rather like one of the duties of keeping indigent boarders: I must read to them before bed. I’ve been told that this fosters good reading habits and helps them to sleep. The latter certainly works for me but seldom works for them. Nodding off during the exciting parts annoys the children.
For the last year and a half I’ve been reading a series of books to the oldest boarder that was read to me by my father, the Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. His father also read them to him, and so on back to the dawn of time. Well, perhaps not that long as they were published in the thirties. The books tell of the wholesome sailing adventures of several upper middle class English children in the years between the World Wars. Our boy finds them exciting and imaginative, as I did. Though much has changed in the ephemera of the world, a child’s sensibilities are much the same.
My younger son enjoys Captain Underpants. Who doesn’t?
Our current book in the series takes place along the coast of China. Our heroes have been captured by a female Chinese pirate who just happens to have been educated at Cambridge and was hoping to attract some pupils. Sounds legit. Before each lesson the students are given a proper English breakfast including Oxford marmalade. Missee Lee, the pirate, concedes that although scholarship is poor at Oxford the marmalade is superior to that of Cambridge.
Traditional English marmalade comes from oranges grown in Seville Spain, which have some bitterness to them. It has a bit more character than the sweet stuff that Smuckers sells. The story takes place on an island where oranges were in fact growing. Instead of making delicious marmalade from the oranges at hand, exorbitant prices (in fictional money of course) were paid for marmalade made from Spanish oranges in England.
Absurd, yes, but entirely in keeping with the way we approach condiments in general. I have my favorites: Sriracha and Cholula. Not exactly marmalade, but preserved fruits. Substitutes just don’t fit the bill. Tabasco is not Cholula, and nothing even approaches Sriracha.
Years ago condiments served more important purposes. Pickled produce meant one could eat it in the winter: sauerkraut, kimchi, ketchup, hot sauces, jams and pickles all preserved some of the harvest while waking up the flavor of winter food. They also kept scurvy at bay.
Sriracha is more perfect than others though it’s not really a traditional ethnic food. A Vietnamese immigrant cooked it up in Los Angeles from what was at hand. I have tried to replicate it by hunting down recipes on the internet and tinkering. I’ve tried fermenting peppers following by blending, cooking then blending, blending then fermenting then cooking. I’ve even used distilled vinegar instead of pickling. I have made some delicious sauces, but I have not duplicated Sriracha. It won’t stop me from trying, and I do enjoy the attempts. Much like those British children, I’d feel more at home if an educated Chinese pirate offered me some Sriracha for my eggs.

I rather like one of the duties of keeping indigent boarders: I must read to them before bed. I’ve been told that this fosters good reading habits and helps them to sleep. The latter certainly works for me but seldom works for them. Nodding off during the exciting parts annoys the children.

For the last year and a half I’ve been reading a series of books to the oldest boarder that was read to me by my father, the Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. His father also read them to him, and so on back to the dawn of time. Well, perhaps not that long as they were published in the thirties. The books tell of the wholesome sailing adventures of several upper middle class English children in the years between the World Wars. Our boy finds them exciting and imaginative, as I did. Though much has changed in the ephemera of the world, a child’s sensibilities are much the same.

My younger son enjoys Captain Underpants. Who doesn’t?

Our current book in the series takes place along the coast of China. Our heroes have been captured by a female Chinese pirate who just happens to have been educated at Cambridge and was hoping to attract some pupils. Sounds legit. Before each lesson the students are given a proper English breakfast including Oxford marmalade. Missee Lee, the pirate, concedes that although scholarship is poor at Oxford the marmalade is superior to that of Cambridge.

Traditional English marmalade comes from oranges grown in Seville Spain, which have some bitterness to them. It has a bit more character than the sweet stuff that Smuckers sells. The story takes place on an island where oranges were in fact growing. Instead of making delicious marmalade from the oranges at hand, exorbitant prices (in fictional money of course) were paid for marmalade made from Spanish oranges in England.

Absurd, yes, but entirely in keeping with the way we approach condiments in general. I have my favorites: Sriracha and Cholula. Not exactly marmalade, but preserved fruits. Substitutes just don’t fit the bill. Tabasco is not Cholula, and nothing even approaches Sriracha.

Sriracha is more perfect than others though it’s not really a traditional ethnic food. A Vietnamese immigrant cooked it up in Los Angeles from what was at hand. I have tried to replicate it by hunting down recipes on the internet and tinkering. I’ve tried fermenting peppers following by blending, cooking then blending, blending then fermenting then cooking. I’ve even used distilled vinegar instead of pickling. I have made some delicious sauces, but I have not duplicated Sriracha. It won’t stop me from trying, and I do enjoy the attempts. Much like those British children, I’d feel more at home if an educated Chinese pirate offered me some Sriracha for my eggs.

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