It has occurred to me that one of the things that many modern biographers have either missed or given lesser attention to is the small, but important, role that food has played on the grand stage of my life.
Speaking of roles, I might begin this essay by recalling the “rolls” story that I have entertained many people with over the years.
When I first arrived in Philadelphia, after quite an arduous adventure by both sea and land (even walking 50 miles on foot across New Jersey!), traveling from my home town of Boston to the City of Brotherly Love, I happened to be quite famished. When I chanced upon the shop of one of the local bakers on Second Street, I asked for a “bisket” (as we spelled it in those days), thinking I would be able to get the same as I was accustomed to in Boston.
However, I was informed that these were not made in Philadelphia. So I would have to choose something else. I asked for a “threepenny loaf.” These were not Philadelphia fare, either. So finally, in desperation, I said, “give me three pennies’ worth of any sort.” And so I was given three large puffy rolls. I was surprised how much bread I obtained with only three pennies; but I took them, and having no room in my pockets, walked off with one roll under each arm while eating the third.
Walking down Market Street in this way, providentially, I happened to pass by the house of my future wife, Deborah (though I did not know it at the time). Standing in her doorway, she saw me, and thought that this bedraggled young man made “a most awkward, ridiculous appearance.”
Walking further, I found myself at the Market Street Wharf once more, and with my appetite being quite satisfied with the one roll, I gave the other two to a woman and her child who had been fellow travelers in our boat ride from Burlington to Philadelphia – perhaps one of the earliest examples of my life-long quest to do good!
That much-misquoted beer statement.
One of my other food stories touches on the saying that I have often been associated with and misquoted on, the issue of God making beer in order to make the human race happy. As I have already expostulated in an earlier blog, it was not beer but wine that I was referring to, and my point was not that God had specifically created such a beverage solely for our diversion, but rather, as a type of miracle that can be seen every day, in the natural cycle of rain which nourishes crops, particularly grapes used for winemaking. With that said, I will now turn to some other topics relating to food.
My vegetarian ways.
At a very early age, I had made a resolution not to eat “animal food,” and so had undoubtedly become one of this country’s first vegetarians. But there was one time when I was traveling, and our boat had been becalmed for lack of wind on Block Island, and the other travelers took to spending the time fishing, and then cooking up the cod that they had caught.
Conferring with an acquaintance on the voyage, I stated that I thought “the taking of every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter.” This seemed pretty reasonable. But before I had taken this vow, I had been a great lover of fish… and when this cod came hot out of the frying pan, it smelled quite delicious. I still debated with myself – but, then, noticing that when some of the fish were sliced open, smaller fish were taken from their stomachs, I thought, “if you eat one another, I don’t see why we can’t eat you.” And so I dined upon the cod quite heartily, ultimately returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.
The lesson I learned from this episode was that it is a good thing to be a reasonable creature, since it lets us find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
“Inventing” some new veggies for the colonies.
Finally, as time grows short for my writing of this particular entry, I would like to leave the reader with mention of one of the other things I had been famous for, besides the various inventions with which they’re already familiar.
I did not actually “invent” them, but I was the one responsible for introducing the American colonists to the “new” vegetables of Scotch kale, Swiss barley, Chinese rhubarb, and kohlrabi. So you can thank me for the presence of these delectable items on American menus today.
As I conclude this little “blog,” perhaps it is appropriate that I also leave you with one of my Poor Richard’s sayings, “the rotten apple spoils the bunch.” Lest you become bored as I prattle on about food, I will leave the “bunch” now, before my further ramblings spoil this account, leaving a sour and disagreeable taste in your mouth.
Your humble servant,