Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2008

Let ‘em eat cake or pie

Just off the top of my head, seems like it was a French Empress who declared, when advised that the po’folks were close to rebellion because they didn’t have enough bread to eat, “Well, let ‘em eat cake!”  Obviously, that quote has been Southernized, so maybe it was actually enunciated by Scarlett O’Hara, who was a rather empirical-minded lady involved in a later rebel cause.

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Yet the quote popped into my head yesterday, as I write this two days after Thanksgiving.  We had our big family feast on Friday instead of Thursday, since some of the family was driving from the east coast, and some from the Gulf Coast.  The Gathering was to be at our home at Brownspur, where the dining table seats 14 comfortably.  I had done my usual fine job of smoking meats for the table: turkey and pork loin grilled over sassafras coals.  Betsy, as Chief Hostess, had turned out several vegetable casseroles, as had Aunt Mawan, so a balanced meal was ready and waiting for the rest of the family to chow down on.

Over the years, I have observed that men are prone to lean toward the meat when planning a meal.  Bread is optional, vegetables are colorful on the table, jellies or sauces add a sweet and sour touch, beverages are necessary to wash the food down with, and desserts are traditional for the finishing touch.  But the meal is planned around the meat, and when a man is the one at home when an aunt or a niece or a daughter calls to ask, “What can I bring?” (notice that a son or uncle or nephew never calls to ask that question), ofttimes the answer from the male host is, “Ahh, I got the meat covered; just bring whatever else you want!”  That is generally delivered with a sort of arrogance, it has been pointed out to me.

It’s poor manners, apparently, for anyone to come to such an event empty-handed, so even though the host’s declaration that he’s got it all covered is duly noted, the womenfolks all are going to bring several somethings to eat, too.

That happened yesterday.  As ladies arrived from near and far, they came bearing gifts, which Betsy promptly set out on the sideboard, as the men gravitated to the den to watch the Rebels wax the Dawgs.  When the game was over and the victory celebrated, the ladies called the menfolks to Thanksgiving Dinner, served buffet style.  The Chief Hostess traditionally is the last to serve herself, so once she had done so and we had blessed it, she got back up to adjust the sideboard and set out the desserts, before consuming her own meal.

When I finished my first plate (mankind, I smoke a great turkey!), I stood up to see what I needed to get for seconds, which is usually what happens before dessert.  I could hardly believe my eyes!

Seven families were represented at the table, okay? Seven different desserts adorned the sideboard!  There wasn’t going to be room for seconds!

Betsy had already prepared mincemeat pie, with a slab of cheese next to it.  She had also whipped out a lemon meringue pie, then on a challenge had turned out a new one for her, a caramel meringue pie that I had sampled the night before which was out of this world.  That would have been enough desserts for the family.

Yet there also appeared before me a cherry pie and a chocolate pecan pie, an apple cake, and a Kahlua chocolate cake. After a full meal already consumed, it was apparent that not a man at the table was capable of doing justice to that line-up of desserts!  Some of the ladies were sure to get their feelings hurt tonight.

Every male knows that when a female sets a dessert before him, he is required to taste it and wax eloquent over it, then ask for a small second slice.  That’s just good manners, for those of us who have been Raised Right.  Here were seven separate pies and cakes, with only eight men in attendance.

Thankfully, the ladies laughed and let us off the hook, although several polite men took small slices of two or three of the choices available. 

I think it was Cuz who made the comment that would ultimately save the day: “Wow!  Dinner was great, but I can hardly wait for breakfast!  Slung coffee and pie!”