Volume 14, Issue 2 ~ January 12 - 18, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

If You Can’t Fight Them, Fool Them

The food that now is as luscious as locusts, shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida.

—Shakespeare: Othello

Personally, I can’t fathom what could be luscious about a locust, but I do recall the sea gulls relished them enough to devour their swarms and save the crops of the Mormon colony in the Salt Lake City area of Utah back in the 1800s.

I also recall the summer, back in the mid ’50s, when I was editor of the Plattsmouth Journal in the Missouri River town of that name in Nebraska. Grasshoppers were everywhere. I got a call from the governor seeking assistance in a plan of his administration’s agricultural arm in promoting something different: ’hoppers on the dinner plate.

That summer the grasshopper plague in Cass County was the worst old timers of the soil could recall. If you walked across the lawn or field, you’d flush enough of them to be obscured by chirping insects. It was hell, one of the reasons I didn’t stick around Nebraska for long.

Combine the pesky and noisy ’hoppers with few trees, Sahara-like temperatures and springtime tornado warnings throughout the Missouri Basin, and it was enough for me to pack up the car and head back east to take over as outdoor editor of the Baltimore Sunpapers.

Pardon me for getting off track. Back to the governor whose name I can’t recall and his curious scheme to create a gourmet dish of grasshoppers. He asked that I join him along with other newshounds in the capital city of Lincoln for a press conference and testing of, get this, Aksarben (Nebraska spelled backwards) Chocolate-Covered Grasshoppers.

An editor of a small newspaper doesn’t have much time to go gallivanting for a day, so I declined the offer. Instead, I wrote a story about the turn-junk-to-treasure brainstorm. Before I wrote it, I did some field-testing in my kitchen. I popped a few grasshoppers into the oven until they were crisp, then dipped them into thick chocolate syrup.

Promptly, I learned there was no need to have caught more than one ’hopper. A half of one would do. Much as I adore chocolate, I spit the concoction out.

As for Shakespeare and the coloquintida he considered so much worse than a “luscious” locust, I think the bard of the Tred Avon had screwed up taste buds. I’m not partial to coloquintida, but I’ll choose the sponge of that gourd any day to any grasshopper or locust. The coloquintida, incidentally, is a cucumber-shaped (I guess you’d call it fruit) that’s served in some Chinese dishes. It’s exceptionally bitter.

Flavor in a Can

Though Nebraska’s governor failed in his quest to make grasshoppers a gourmet item, perhaps he was on the right track from the standpoints of economics and agricultural science and management. Take something that is pesky and abundant, come up with a use or demand for it, and its numbers will be culled. The bottom line could mean a profitable market. A potential win-win situation.

I got to thinking about that the other day when I read a piece in the Sun by Lisa Respers France concerning a new spray-on flavor that can make practically anything taste like anything else — and with no added calories, fat, carbohydrates or cholesterol. Sounds like something out of Star Trek, doesn’t it?

To renowned chef David Burke, it’s real. And it’s here. David Burke’s Flavor Spray can be used to flavor anything from foods and beverages to medicine and toothpaste. It comes with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration and with endless possibilities.

You’re watching your cholesterol, calories, fat (and weight) and crave a bacon end egg sandwich. Fry the egg, spray on the bacon flavoring, add two slices of low calorie toast; presto you have your heart’s desire: tasty, healthy, and with probably half the calories. If kids refuse to sample the broccoli, dose it with a peanut butter spray.

Burke is already experimenting with special sprays for kids. If they don’t want vegetables, spray ’em with a french-fry concoction. The possibilities are endless. I’ll take a few bottles of gin martini spray, add it to the tap water in the kitchen, and please my doctor as well as myself and my health.

I can’t remember when I had my last real dry martini on the rocks with a few olives soaking in it. Now I wouldn’t even need the fatty olives; just some croutons spiced up with pimento and olive spray. Why I could down three double martinis and write, talk, walk and anything else as I ordinarily would.

Can it be that someday we can walk into a restaurant, order the chicken croquettes, or whatever the cheapest thing is on the menu — with a request for filet mignon spray added? We’d save a bundle. Boy, do I wish that such an additive was around back in the Great Depression when my mother practically had to force cod liver oil down my gullet daily.

Care to Taste a Chocolate Ray?

If the governor of Nebraska didn’t end up in the nut house for promoting chocolate covered grasshoppers, perhaps it’s safe for me to suggest the folks at Maryland Department of Natural Resources spend a few of its few bucks to research a concoction that could both cure a growing woe in the Bay and put a few badly needed bucks in its coffers for such things as getting some biologists back to work on fish and game projects.

Why not develop not a chocolate spray but a filet mignon potion that could be sprayed on the Bay’s Public Enemy Number One? In no time at all, the cownose rays would become a threatened and endangered species. The department would profit enough to bring back some of the biologists forced into early retirement or job-hunting elsewhere.

If the consumers insist on seafood, then spray on the chunks of ray a fresh mix of cod, pompano or Chilean sea bass flavor. If texture isn’t critical to the palate, try scallop, crab or lobster mixes. Golly, I can recall the days when, for a while, Chincoteague scallops on the menu of Eastern Shore Virginia eateries were cubed wings of cownose rays marinated and fried. They were more tolerable than chocolate grasshoppers, but not by much.

Cownose rays are increasing in number, ravaging oyster beds and diminishing toadfish. (How many toads did you catch last year)? But, other than bait for things like crabs, there’s no market for rays. No market means no fishing pressure, and no fishing pressure means continued population growth.

Methinks you think I’m speaking in jest. Maybe, but might I remind you, that many a truth has been spoken in jest. Enough said.

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