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Connections: Sentimental Snacks

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 14:21

Tuna or chicken? Salad, that is. I’ve got a mania for tuna salad and have been known to even eat it for breakfast — deli-style, with lettuce and mayo on a hard roll — when I am rushing to work and have no time to cook (which is usually all the time). Chicken salad makes a fine sandwich, too, especially when on good bread, pumpernickel perhaps, and at this time of year with a slice of fresh tomato. But I wouldn’t dream of chicken salad for breakfast. That would be bananas!

Like others whose diets are, well, personalized, my childhood takes the blame. Chicken was a mainstay in our household, for the most part boiled or roasted and served without glorification. I cannot recall my mother ever making chicken salad. Perhaps that was because tuna salad was easier: no slicing, no fuss, just opening a can.

Until the late 1940s, my parents kept a kosher kitchen. Dairy and meat products were never served together; different sets of dishes were required, and Passover had yet another set of separate dishes. Pork products would never be brought into the house or ordered in a restaurant. Ditto shellfish.

A frequent family anecdote dates to elementary school. I used to have lunch once a week at a cousin’s house where Jewish dietary laws had long been thrown out the window. One afternoon while at the table, my cousin became alarmed, jumping up to tell her mother it was wrong to serve me bacon. My aunt’s quick response? “Just tell her it’s fish.”

Processing chicken in order for it to be kosher is a complicated business. Animals are not supposed to suffer, and killing is to be performed by someone who can do it in the most humane way possible. Finally, coarse salt is spread on the chicken, drawing out its blood.

I never have heard of any ritual practices for preparing fish, which tells us something about a Jewish favorite: lox.

“Lox,” the word, comes from the Yiddish word “lacks,” which means salmon. From medieval to modern times Jews were scattered from their homeland in the Middle East throughout the Medi­terranean countries, from Egypt to Portugal, as well as other European countries. It may be apochryphal, but it seems likely that they preserved the indigenous salmon by smoking and salting it, giving birth to lox. Lox, cream cheese, and bagels, a New York City staple, certainly can be properly attributed to the Jews.

Another favorite food story from my youth involves Frank Sinatra.

I liked tuna sandwiches so much when I was growing up that I packed one as lunch the day I went with a group of friends to a matinee to see a young Sinatra sing in New York City. Before the show, we went to one of the big department stores, I forget which one, and wandered around the cosmetics floor, sampling perfume. There was a fountain in the cosmetics department that flowed with perfume — a sales gimmick, and I wish I could remember the fragrance’s name — and my friends and I trailed our hands into it, thoroughly dousing our teenage selves with scent.

An hour or so later, in the balcony among the packed crowd of girls like me, fainting and crying as Sinatra sang, I felt terribly sick from the mingled scent of my lunch and the cosmetics-department perfume.

Oh, well, it might have almost ruined the show, but I still like that sandwich. I just won’t eat it while listening to “Polkadots and Moonbeams.”


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