Hit List

September 29, 2013

The last two Septembers have been “food songs” month in the Thornapple blog. Truth to tell, it gives me a bit of relief from thinking up a new blog every week. Contrary to a sentiment I attributed to Doug Anderson in an entry last year, there are hundreds of food songs. I haven’t even had time to get around to the one food song (other than “Cheeseburger in Paradise”) that Anderson was able to come up with on his own. That would be Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.” Those of you fully ensconced in the Michigan way of being may not know that jambalaya actually is a food. It’s a variation on pilaf that relies on the Louisiana spice trio of onions, peppers and celery cooked with rice in a tomato sauce. From there, almost anything goes. But jambalaya isn’t the only food in Hank Williams’ bayou classic. There’s also crawfish pie and filé gumbo. Filé is made from sassafras, once widely used in root beers but now banned by the Federal government.

But that’s a thought better served in a month when I’m actually writing blogs on food ethics, rather than trying to keep myself diverted by musings on food songs. I started out this morning thinking about Mark Knopfler’s “Ole Pigweed,” which begins with a recipe for mulligan stew. But then I remembered that we already did that, so it was back to “Jambalaya.” For those of you who, like Erin McKenna, are food song junkies, I’ll report that Bon Appétite has its own list of food songs, of which only Roy Byrd’s “Red Beans,” has been celebrated in the Thornapple Blog, though I have given some thought to the Beach Boys’ “Vegetables,” which comes in at number 16 on Bon Appétite’s top 25. Some of theirs are instrumentals, so I’m not sure I’d credit them as food songs, though they do refer to food in the title. Jazz musicians are notorious for coming up with ditties and not knowing what to call them. Then anything sitting around is fair game: “Rib Tips”, “Peanuts”, “Java”.

But then again, readers are probably still scratching their heads about Jimi Hendrix’ “Stone Free”, which in a rather stone free association we attributed to peaches earlier this month. Here’s the Thornapple short list:

  1. Pico de Gallo
  2. Homegrown Tomatoes
  3. Everybody Eats When They Come to My House
  4. The Frim Fram Sauce
  5. Watermelon Time
  6. Ole Pigweed
  7. House of Blue Light
  8. Give ‘em Cornbread
  9. Baker Shop Boogie
  10. Jambalaya

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

Fall In There

September 22, 2013

and Detroit barbecue ribs!

That’s the bridge from “House of Blue Lights” by Don Kaye and Freddie Slack. I’m used to hearing it performed by Asleep at the Wheel, and back in the day when Diane and I used to hear them at a roadhouse called “The Hall of Fame” people would pack the floor two-stepping to the Texas swing beat. The bridge line is where all the food is in “House of Blue Lights” and the “Detroit barbecue ribs” lyric is perfect for plumbing the magnificent lower range of Ray Benson’s baritone. The rest of the song is (appropriately) about dancing. Despite the fryers, broilers and Detroit barbecue ribs that seem to be a major attraction, the verse continues to advise listeners “but the treat of treat is when they serve up those fine eight beats.”

Now there is a bit of a controversy here, as some transcriptions indicate that the lyric is “egg beats” rather than “eight beats”. I think this just testifies to the way that food overrides dancing in fixing the larger hermeneutic frame for making sense of this highly rhythmic little ditty for many listeners. It’s the infectious beat that carries the dancing subtext to our feet, so why not go with the stomach as far as the main message is concerned? However, in the spirit of accuracy that is the enduring spirit of the Thornapple Blog (!?!) I would lean to the “eights” rather than the “eggs”. After all, the first verse tells us to alternately pull up our boots or jeans (depending on who’s singing) and truck on down to that knocked-out joint at the edge of town.  We are then advised “There’s an eight beat combo that just won’t quit. Keep on walkin’ ‘til you see a blue light lit.” So I think that Messrs. Kaye and Slack have signaled the dancing theme pretty clearly right up front.

And being of the over sixty persuasion as noted last week, I have to say that I am overwhelmingly taken by the idea of walking down to a knocked out shack at the edge of town, notable for its fryers, broilers and Detroit barbecue ribs, and recognizable merely by the “blue light lit.” I admit that it’s pure nostalgia, but it sure beats heading to Appleby’s for the early bird special. There’s no reason why a food song can’t also be good to dance to, after all.

Although I associate “House of Blue Light” with Ray Benson, the song has apparently been covered by just about everyone—Chuck Berry, George Thorogood, the Andrews Sisters.  Billy Joel does his own tune by the same name, but despite the fact that the love interest in his version “don’t mind makin’ breakfast in the morning”, I don’t really think it’s a food song. While Joel goes for tawdry sex, the Kaye and Slack version is more wholesome (if not also frank about the full range of bodily pleasures). The original (I presume) is the one recorded by Freddie Slack’s band back in 1945 with Ella Mae Morse doing the vocals. Freddie and Ella Mae banter for a while at the outset about where to spend the evening. Although Ella Mae is mainly taken by the “fine eight beats”, I also get the sense that she’s keen on getting Freddie to spring for some of those fryers, broilers and Detroit barbecue ribs.

And that’s why the “House of Blue Light” is a food song.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

Mo Jelly





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September 16, 2013

We’re steaming through food songs month, and if things have gone as planned, I’m not really sitting in front of my computer on September 16, but traveling home from a meeting. Thank you robots! So maybe we can stay on the theme of jelly. As we remarked last week, many gustatory songs are dedicated to the theme of jelly. In addition to last week’s reference to the relatively obscure, Baker Shop Boogie from Willie Nix, we have a more widely known entry from the Flaming Lips, who note that “She don’t use jelly”. For the record (or CD as it were), there are other food items that she don’t use. To wit, although “She’ll make ya breakfast, she’ll make ya toast. She don’t use butter, she don’t use cheese, she don’t use jelly or any of these.” If, on the other hand, you are curious about what she do use, you’ll just have to ask the Flaming Lips. According to Wikipedia, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne usually inflates an enormous balloon filled with confetti until it bursts on the crowd when “She don’t use jelly” is performed. I’m sure that this, too, is a food reference, but I’m kind of foggy on how it actually connects up.

One must set aside the artists who use the name jelly, including Lemon Jelly, Jelly Bread and, of course, the Punjabi rapper who goes simply by Jelly. Nevertheless, the ubiquity of jelly songs belies the speculation, discussed in last year’s food songs month, that food songs are comparatively rare. There is a “Peanut Butter Jelly” song played on “The Family Guy.” Even Spongebob Squarepants has a jelly song:

I just had a sandwich,
No ordinary sandwich,
A sandwich filled with jellyfish jelly,

Hey man you got to try this sandwich,
It's no ordinary sandwich,
It the tastiest sandwich in the sea

There is also a song simply called “Jelly” by Tokyo Diiva. According to my research, the song goes something like this:

Hostadiddy, Hostadiddy, H-O-S-T-A and a Diddy
Hostadiddy, Hostadiddy, H-O-S-T-A and a Diddy
The girls all jelly, the girls all jelly, they jealous of me!
The girls all jelly, the girls all jelly, they jealous of me!

Being of the over sixty persuasion, I have never actually been to a Tokyo Diiva performance, nor have I heard a recording of their song played on the radio. Of course it’s possible that “Jelly” is not played on a radio at all but rather on one of those appendages that the kids now have permanently attached to their ear. It’s also possible that, as when Destiny’s Child advises their listeners to shake their jelly, the food reference in this song is a bit tenuous. That, of course, is one of the wonderful things about jelly songs in any case, but it is possible that Tokyo Diiva is pushing it a little bit too far.

But who can forget Bob Marley’s contribution, which even if it plays a bit with the idea, is still anchored in a sho’ nuff’ food item, e.g., that is to say and namely, guava jelly.

Rub it on my belly, mon.

Paul B. Thompson is the lost in the ozone.


Pastry Tune

September 9, 2013

It’s officially September, which means it’s time for me to write nostalgic blogs about how sweet it is to be on a college campus when back-to-school time rolls around. Except that when last September rolled around, I wound up doing a month of blogs on food songs in order to distract myself from the twenty-somethings dressed in their summer clothes that suddenly take over the MSU campus. Picking up on that theme again this year, I’m going to call your attention to a somewhat obscure tune by Willie Nix called “The Baker Shop Boogie”, one of the early releases by Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis. Nix starts out telling us that he’s “got a little girl with a baker shop” before he gets around to the chorus, which is pretty simple:

It’s the baker shop boogie, the baker shop boogie.
It’s the baker shop boogie—nicest place in town.

Hey! Now that’s a food song we can all get behind, isn’t it? Nice little elegy to baked goods. I do have some puzzles about some of the lyrics. Like one that seems to say “She’s got mothers & sons & cornbread, too; Sweet rolls & jelly, boys, I’m really tellin’ you,” then it goes back into the chorus. I Googled “mothers & sons” looking for an obscure soul food item from Memphis that I’ve never heard of before, but no luck. If any of you out there have an answer to this vexing query, you might want to add an explanation in “comments” box. And no robots!

According to the Sun Records website, Nix was an innovative drummer who performed around Chicago and Memphis mostly in the 1950s. He is apparently no relation to Don Nix, who not only wrote the immortal late sixties ballad “Going Down”, but also produced a cookbook of rock star foods entitled Road Stories and Recipes. Notable for foodies, I think.

“The Baker Shop Boogie” continues on for about five verses extolling the virtues of pastry, including this one:

I walked in the bakery, thought everything was sold.
I found out she saved me some sweet jelly roll.
It’s the baker shop boogie, the baker shop boogie.
It’s the baker shop boogie—nicest place in town.

Now, we’ve gone over jelly roll before in the Thornapple blog. Which makes me wonder if we aren’t back where we left off with food songs last September. Maybe we’re not really singing about food, after all. And if that’s so, maybe this is not really such a good way to keep me distracted. Hmm.

 Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University


Stone Free

September 1, 2013

CSA members almost everywhere are at the peak moment about now, so it’s not inappropriate to have some later summer blogs that just flat out lay back and relish the splendor of proper fruits and vegetables. We’ve generally done tomatoes here in the Thornapple blog, and ‘tis indeed the case that hardly anything surpasses the homegrown tomato in consolidating and intensifying all of God’s glories in a manner that can be appreciated by the human form. But there are lots of other wonders, too, and there’s one in particular that I have in mind this Labor Day Weekend: Peaches.

We’ve missed peaches for two years running in Michigan. I know that last year it was that too-early burst of warm weather back in February that deceived our fruit trees into running the sap a bit too soon, only to be blasted by a more typical run of freezing temperature in March. All of our fruit crops suffered. The year before, there was fruit but it was all early. Apparently the peaches really need that frosty winter weather to set up well—something that may explain why the Southern states most known for peach production are really suffering in an era of climate change. But don’t take it from me. When it comes to authentic agronomic know-how, I’m positioned so that I can occasionally pass along some words of wisdom from an a real-life practicing farmer or from an agricultural scientist. In actual fact I’m clueless when it comes to why there weren’t any peaches in 2011.

I was reminded that it had been two years since Thornapple CSAers (my word processer thinks I’m trying to spell Caesars, but no dice, Chucko) had any of those sensational organic white flesh peaches from up north. Now to be clear about the CSA way, these are not part of the regular share. Rather Jane Bush buys a truckload and puts them in the Appleschram cooler, from whence cases are available for CSA members to purchase. The CSA helps people partner up, as for reasons unclear to me, most normal people doubt their ability to consume an entire case of peaches. I’m reminded of an episode in The Grapes of Wrath where the Joad children get a case of the skitters from eating too many peaches, but I can assure you based on personal experience that an adult can easily consume a half dozen peaches every day without adverse effect. That works out to half a case a week or thereabouts, so I don’t count fear of the skitters as a legitimate reason for buying less than a case of peaches at a time.

You can eat peaches however you want, but I’ve been waiting until they are just barely soft, then I run a knife around the longitudinal diameter and pull the halves apart. These being freestone peaches, the pit comes right out and you are left with two luscious peach halves to slurp down. If you exhibit a high degree of self-control, you can measure it out through six or eight bites.

Which brings me to this week’s parting thought. People of my generational orientation will recall a tunefull ditty of some decades back that was accompanied by the following lyric:

Everyday in the week I'm in a different city
 If my stay's too long people try to pull me down
 They talk about me like a dog, talkin' about the clothes I wear
 But they don't realize they're the ones who's square
Hey, and that's why
 You can't hold me down
 I don't want to be down
 I gotta move on
Stone free, do what I please
 Stone free, to ride the breeze
 Stone free, I can't stay
 I got to, got to, got to get away


And so I ask you, do you think Jimi Hendrix was singing about peaches?


Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University