Painting chickens preferable to raising them

Chicken chowder, cranberry seltzer and good cheer grace upcoming Monday Munches at the Charlotte Senior Center.

Most plentiful bird in the world? The chicken. The abundance of both chickens and cranberries is noteworthy. Cultural references to the chicken abound — in myth, folklore, religion and literature.

In his beautiful book, “Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories and Recipes of the Humble Bird,” Jacques Pepin quotes Grandma Moses: “If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.”

Pepin notes that although over the course of his life he has tended small flocks at his home in Connecticut, he’d rather paint chickens than raise them.

In matters of the kitchen, Pepin observes that “chickens are egalitarian creatures. Bring one home and it can be adapted to any style of cooking, from simple country fare to the heights of haute cuisine.”

Filled with recipes, stories and paintings, his beautiful book is recommended even for those who have no interest in cooking.

There may be nothing mythological about the cranberry, but Wikipedia provides plenty of interesting history, starting in New England with the Narragansett people of the Algonquin nation. A recipe for cranberry sauce appeared in the Pilgrim cookbook, and in 1667, New Englanders sent 10 barrels of cranberries to King Charles, hoping to mollify him over a disagreement. “The Compleat Cook’s Guide,” published in 1683, makes no mention of cranberry seltzer but does note cranberry juice.

Canned cranberry “logs” were introduced by Ocean Spray in 1941, and now, Americans consume more than 5 million gallons of these “logs” every holiday season. In 2021, 790 million pounds of cranberries were harvested in the U.S., with Wisconsin producing the most, followed by Massachusetts and Oregon.

Cranberries have provoked politics. On Nov. 9, 1959, the secretary of health, education and welfare announced that “some cranberries had been contaminated by a weed killer that had caused cancer in rats.” Not surprisingly, this announcement set off the Great Cranberry Scare, threatening a $50-million-a-year industry.

Michael Tortonello reported in The New Yorker, Americans had been waiting with more than usual interest to see what the Eisenhowers would eat as Thanksgiving relish. The news came Friday, courtesy of the Associated press headline: “No Cranberries for President.”

This news was soon followed by a Washington Post front page headline: “Vice president has cranberries in Wisconsin.”

At a political dinner on a campaign swing, Nixon ate four helpings of cranberry sauce, declaring his great confidence in the health/education secretary’s ability to solve the problem.

Not to be outdone, Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy drank two glasses of cranberry juice, joking, “If we both pass away, I feel I shall have performed a great public service by taking the vice president with me.” (See: “Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House,” by Alex Prud’homme, another fun book.)

And don’t forget the cookies. A 1653 recipe for the Austrian Linzer torte pie lays claim to being the oldest written recipe in existence. Later, bakers would take the Linzer torte dough, and instead of making a pie, they fashioned cookies.

Confession: I once found my glob of Linzer torte dough, which I’d refrigerated as directed, impossible to roll out. I despaired, but the family physicist had the solution. Hans wrapped it up well, laid the package down in the driveway and rolled it flat with the car.

The cookies came out just fine.

In his book, “Now that’s a Linzertorte,” 30-year pastry chef at Trapp Family Lodge, Marshall Faye, reports no such difficulties. Recently, The Stowe Reporter offered a portrait, “Stowe son talks Trapp, Linzertorte and foster parenting.”

Unrelated, except  in the food category, Ralph Nader once invited me to dinner at his sister’s house. I want to recommend his new book both because he helped me a lot when I self-published “Trump, Trump, Trump: The March of Folly” (more relevant now than ever before) and because his new book is very positive: “The Rebellious CEO: 12 Leaders Who Did It Right.” Certainly, we need as much positive as we can get right now.

Finally, take note of what a character in James McBride’s “Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” says of Bulgarians: “They can’t pour a glass of water without making a party of it.”

You don’t have to be Bulgarian to come drink a glass of cranberry seltzer at the Charlotte Senior Center and make a party of it. Come on in and bring a friend.

With all the holiday music soon to fill every space imaginable, enjoy these nonsense lyrics to “Chickery Chick”, a song released by Sammy Kaye and going to No. 1 in 1945. It seems that just about everybody performed this song. After seeing versions by The Andrews Sisters, Anita O’Day, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Gene Krupa, Tiny Tim and The Three Stooges, I stopped looking.

Maybe it’s time for “Deck the Halls.” Here’s a version by Nat King Cole.

Monday Munch
Dec. 4, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Winter vegetables with gnocchi, spinach-lettuce salad with bleu cheese, grapes, sunflower seeds, Christmas Cookies and cranberry seltzer

Monday Munch
Dec. 11, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Cheddar chicken chowder, festive salad and Linzer torte cookies.