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a dainty dish

Things in the mail order catalog are said to contain "only natural ingredients." The hucksters have been with us long enough so I am not beguiled into believing this means anything is particular, but I found myself balancing it off against other items that "contain no artificial ingredients." I suppose I have just done what no poetaster of the catalogs has ever done -- I have looked at ingredientm in the dictionary.

Dominique LaPierre was one of the most inventive cooks ever to feed a crew in our West Branch region of the Maine woods, and he would give his recipe for real-honest-to-goodness Kaybecker pea soup to anybody who asked for it -- except that he wouldn't tell his "secret ingredient." Dominique, whom we called "Minick ," made the real thing, and of course if it isn't true Quebec pea soup with the small yellow split-peas and beaucoup lard,m it isn't pea soup at all. Anybody knows that, except the people who can pea soup. Minick started his pea soup about the third week in August, when the cruiser came in to lay out the winter's operation, and the huge pot then remained on the back of his cookshack mogul until spring. The contents would go up and down with a tide caused by the gastronomic requirements of the lumbering business, and Minick would add and subtract on a continuing basis. The old imparted flavor and body to the new, and while on some days the soup was less rigid and on some days a spoon would stand up in it straight, the quality and nutritional power stayed fairly constant as the season moved along. At ice-out in the spring the crew would go down river with the drive, and Minick would hoist his pot of pea soup on the wagon with the rest of his wangan and feed the men four square a day clear to the mill, after which Minick and his pea soup pot went out of business until August returned.

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TThere was one batch of Minick's pea soup that remains in timberland legend, along with Paul Bunyan's blue ox and the marvels of Johnny Inkslinger. One winter things froze up real good, and the cookee had to go down and chop a hole in the pond ice to get water. Minick was an improviser, so just to see that would happen he shoved a chunk of the pond ice into his pea soup pot. Voila? Nobody could figure out why, but that did something to the mixture (mixturem being a combination of ingredientsm ) and everybody exclaimed about the new excellence of Minick's famous pea soup. After that, even when he could get water with less effort, Minick made the cookee go down to the pond and chop a big piece of ice for his pea soup pot.

Well sir, and you talk about ingredients! -- one morning the cookee brought up the piece of ice, and what do you think? Right there, frozen in the ice, is a big fish! One of those wananish,m but we Mainers call it a salmon. Minick hove the ice, fish and all, into his pea soup pot, and therem was a triumph!

Well, they still talk about it all up and down the Penobscot River. Finest pea soup Dominique LaPierre ever made. Tasted just like clam chowder.

We can only guess, of course, if the gifted writers of the mail order catalogs would look upon salmon as a natural or unnatural ingredient of pea soup , and we must wonder if they would consider it artificial. The story does indicate the nature of Minick's "secret" ingredient -- which was pond water. The pond water remained his constant, and the soup itself was adaptable. If an unexpected crew of loghaul icers, or an executive visitation, put extra demands on Minick's cuisine, he just splashed another pailful of pond water in his pea soup pot and told the cookee to clang the come-and-get-it. Cool, calm, always the master of his trade, Minick never fussed up and nobody came away hungry. But when somebody asked him how he made his pea soup, Minick would lay his fingers to his lips in the coziest manner of the Cordon Bleu, and he would enumerate the delicate precisions of his art. Five hundredweight split peas, two hogsheads salt pork, and so on. You could go right home and start a batch. But Minick kept his secret, and as he reeled off his recipe he never said a word about the pond water. That's why nobody ever made a pea soup so good as Minick's -- unless, of course, by accident he stumbled on some unnatural and artificial ingredient like a wananish. Magnifique!m


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