Fr. Chris Billac, S.J. taught in Jesuit schools. He was infamous for bad puns across Texas and Louisiana. While cruising between tightly arranged desks, his wingtips would crush a toe or two. Without skipping a beat, he’d turn his head and offer, “you walk on your feet all day, don’t you? So why can’t I?”
When asked about his age his reply never wavered, “I am ask old as my gums and older than my teeth.” Which is to say “I gave you a truthful answer, just not the one you were expecting.”
We celebrate teeth. We dance when they grow in babies and delight when they fall out a few years later. Teeth milestone maturity. And they give us the tools to tear into food and grit when times are tough. Without teeth, Eve’s temptation might have not engrossed Adam. And we’d never have left the Garden of Eden.
Masticating alone gives pleasure. And people make money from this fact. Consider that William Wrigley earned enough cash from our obsession to sponsor a baseball park.
Some of us are toothier than others. Some of us are not satisfied until our food answers back. These are the crunchers talked about by the Wall Street Journal. They stand firm on which texture is revered and that which is reviled.
For this population, gelatin tortures. It’s barely solid form slithers past the tongue. It’s a snake who’s slimy purpose is to hollow out the belly.
This evil substance appears everywhere. The inside of a ripe tomato. Shucked oysters. Eggplant and okra under the right temperature too. All hideous mutations trapped between a liquid and a solid. A godless aberration of nature they might chide.
The cure remains simple. A vat of bubbling oil and a thick, starchy batter. 375 degrees and a few minutes later emerges something beyond barely edible. It’s a heart throb on a plate.
Americans fry everything. Its a national past time. Wander into any State Fair. Beyond the blue ribbons sit corn dogs, fried candy bars, and to the horror of cardiologists everywhere, fried butter.
Were Henry Higgins to turn his phonetic ear to food, ice-cream would be his Eliza Doolittle. Sweet cream thickened by slow freezing. An beauty to marvel for sure. But when dressed in a bonnet of brittle batter, an angel de cuisine rises. A vision Dante surely spotted on his way up Paradise’s ladder.
The pastry chef at Silk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, play this hand well. They blanket spicy ice-cream with pound cake, dredge it in a tempura slurry and crisp it in a fryer. Chocolate sauce anoints this golden orb. Sliced strawberry rests like laurel leaves. Whipped cream perches on top as if a cloud wandering too low was caught by the crusty peaks.
Avocado, too, can armor up. Consider thick slices coated with crust. The banana-like consistency hidden behind a shell. It adds dimension to the tender taco.
The Burning Tree in Mount Desert Island, ME never advertise the fried squash blossoms. Word of mouth does the work. Delicate zucchini petals swallow goat cheese pillows before getting dressed for dinner. They enter the dining room as puffy lozenges ready for dunk in tomato jam.
The cure for the squishy, the squirmy and squeaky is nothing other than a crunchy exterior. All is forgiven.
So look around. If it can be amassed into a solid form, even for a moment, it can be fried. It can have a new audience to teeth-minded gourmands. It can remain true to form and yet defy expectations.
The points is this: it is time to sing and dance on top of the furniture. It is time to tickle the teeth with texture. It is time tip the imagination.
It’s time to fry up some smiles.