In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a sudden storm throws together two unlikely companions on a deserted island. Following a shipwreck, Trinculo, the court jester, seeks shelter on the land. He is driven towards a strange creature, appearing as a hideous and large fish. Trinculo discovers that the “fish” is actually a native islander, a man named Caliban—who fears that Trinculo is a tormenting spirit. Trinculo and Caliban must huddle miserably beneath one shoddy coat that they share for protection from the pelting rain.
Trinculo is heard to mutter, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”
While Mother Nature may be the melancholy matchmaker at the helm forcing these two “strange bedfellows” together, it is the “Mother of Invention”—Necessity—that may be to blame for creating some of the most disastrous food duos ever to be put on one plate.
We’re not talking about the usual suspects we all enjoy—like peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, or eggs and bacon. We’re not talking about concoctions as incongruent as sour cream and ground beef bonded together with a can of cream of mushroom soup to make an ooey-gooey mess called beef stroganoff casserole (a “go-to” dinner for families in the 1970’s). And we are not talking about delicious combinations with ridiculous names, like Surf and Turf. We are talking about the food combos dumped together from the last two cans on the shelf, or salvaged from the leftovers in the fridge, or invented in the mind of a demented chef. These are the strange plate-fellows we are supposed to love, but instead, loathe, and that somehow have made it into recipe books, diner menus, and even television shows.
Our introduction to disastrous food duos begins with pork chops and applesauce, from an episode of The Brady Bunch. View the clip here.
There is historical evidence that our predecessors enjoyed this savory and sweet combination, as evidenced by a recipe from The House-keepers Pocket-Book, published in 1760 which describes roasted “Hog’s head” served with a side of “applesauce in a plate.” However, the version cooked up by Alice in the 1970’s most likely featured a bland, tasteless, perhaps overcooked pork chop paired with overly-sweet and overly processed applesauce poured from a jar. And it’s doubtful you’ll find anything resembling this in fine-dining restaurants of the 21st century; although, if you mix and match from the menu at eateries like Cracker Barrel, you can create your own version of pork chops and applesauce.
I suppose that any mom-and-pop diner struggling to compete with larger chains might create a few blue-plate specials featuring some odd food couples. But even larger food chains are coming up with weird duets, foisting these on the hungry populace and convincing us that it’s not only “hip” but “tasty.” The latest rage is avocado and chocolate.
Strange pairings are also the result of regional and cultural tastes. My Iowa-born mother always slathered margarine on ham sandwiches, and my Indiana-bred father preferred ice-cubes in his milk. One of my mother’s Depression-era friends liked crumbles of hot cornbread in his milk. While living in southeast Texas, I was privileged to eat deer meat chili with dollops of potato salad on top. I ate my first fish taco in the North Bay, while in California, twenty years ago (long before the craze spread across the nation).
While scouring menus from the past, I discovered a few combos worthy of mention:
I must admit, though…such examples are gastronomically unappetizing, yet strangely appealing in the phonetic sense—the sound of these food combinations is sonically pleasing, though visually disturbing. You’ll just have to imagine them on the plate.
But do roll the words around on your tongue, and enjoy the sounds. Perhaps, you can come up with a few odd food combinations, yourself. It’s the coupling of foody words with my fascination for linguistic oddities that have inspired this post. It is why I have chosen to highlight such strange plate-fellows—but will probably never try most of
except on a dare.
Or if I’m stranded on a deserted island with Caliban.
Kira Marie McCullough ©April 21, 2019