Saturday, January 5, 2008


My Mother, Elisabeth Alden Littlefield Buxton of Tuckahoe, Bristol, Pawtucket and Providence was a great cook and maintained an impressive portfolio of meals that she could prepare at the drop of a hat. Her Chicken Elisabeth and post-Thanksgiving Turkey Slop (recently successfully resurrected by Brother John) were two of my personal favorites, among many. She may have been the original 30 minute Rachael Ray though I suspect that Mothers across the land with kids (there were three of us) were and are equally proficient. It’s called survival.

I remember when she single-handedly prepared a meal for Brother John’s Williston Academy Wrestling Team in 1961, with apparent ease. They were in Providence, RI for the New England Championships, their last big tourney of the year so after the meet, it was no more starvation diets. They were ravenous and she probably served them several cows, a couple of sheep, a boar, fourteen chickens and all the trimmings (no alcoholic beverages). It was a seemingly prodigious task that she pulled off without mussing one hair on her head though I remember a little smudge of flour on her cheek.

Mother coordinated and hosted small intimate dinner parties to gala functions held by Rhode Island Governors Chris DelSesto and John Chaffee at the Marble House in Newport. Mother entertained presidents, senators, governors, royalty and the common man with equal aplomb and respect. She was the epitome of The Littlefield Family and what Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. referred to as Rhode Island Aristocracy. Mother was well educated, highly motivated and had a great sense of obligation to Family on the local, state and national level.

She instilled that same sense of Family in all of her three children and her extended Family and many Friends. She educated us and encouraged a never-ending learning process which started by instilling in us an innate curiosity about all things. We were educated in the best New England prep schools and eventually developed an erudite approach to life.

That included the responsibility to be the best that we could be with those duties extending even to dress. We were not allowed to tie our neckties with a plebian four-in-hand knot. I remember being chastised for doing so and the long and laborious lessons how to tie a double Windsor knot and the careful mentoring and counsel by Mom’s Dad, Alden Llewellyn Littlefield (you see, he was also left handed).

Mother gave me my copy of the 1961 edition of Larousse’s Gastronomique, the Bible of cooking that will never be equaled. It sets the standard for all that follow as witnessed by the first sentence, “The history of the table of a nation is a reflection of the civilization of that nation.” So, this, then, becomes the Bible of culture documenting the journey of man from the cave to the present day. Perhaps this was the motivation to earn my degree in anthropology? At any rate it gave me a sense of our world even before a global perspective was in vogue.

So the stage is set. You know that we were all well educated, erudite and with the depth, polish and civility to engage any social occasion. We were taught well at Mrs. Wilson’s Dance School and then tested on the dance floor of the Agawam-Hunt Club and then presented in the ballroom of the Sheraton-Biltmore Hotel, host for many years to all Providence Debutantes (white tie only, please!)

There was an occasion several years before Mother claimed her great, final reward in 1998 when she and I were musing on some of her gastronomical delights. We talked about her great pink grapefruit and avocado salad, her Dungeness crab dip and her many other culinary victories. I was misty-eyed when I thought to profusely thank her for one especially delectable offering that she regularly made for us in the 1950‘s and 60’s.

It was an open-faced sandwich that started out with lightly toasted rye bread, lightly buttered (hang on). You thinly slice some SPAM® and layer that on the toast slathering some Grey Poupon® or good brown deli mustard on the slices. Cover that with a rich beefsteak tomato (not too soft), sliced and salted, topping that off with several slices of a good, strong Swiss cheese. Pop that concoction into the broiler and when the cheese starts to melt and slightly brown, pull it out and consume. It was (and is) eating fit for a King or Queen.

I was waxing nostalgic and emoting as only a son can do. Mother draws herself up and looking right straight into my eyes, seemingly disgusted, obviously feeling that she had failed in all her teachings, told me, “Auch, the only reason that I fixed that for you was because we couldn’t afford anything else!”

Despite my Mother’s visceral disappointment, I remain (along with "Weird Al" Yankovic), unashamedly, a big fan of the culinary genius of Hormel Food’s SPAM® and regularly consume it to this day. In short, I really do like the quality pork shoulder and ham that constitutes this Hormel product. It isn’t road kill or mystery meat.

It was unfortunate that Monty Python’s 1970 Spam parody and skit contributed to the negative utilization of the word in its lower case identity. You see, some of my Viking cousins at the Green Midget Café in the English Borough of Bromley (which features a SPAM® oriented menu) exuberantly sang "Spam, lovely Spam, wonderful Spam, etc" in an ever increasing crescendo to the chagrin of the wait staff and other restaurant patrons. This skit along with a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC now HP) employee’s 1978 unsolicited marketing e-mail helped to inspire the term spam as slang for not only unwanted e-mail but useless information that just takes up space. This practice soon became commonplace and the term spamming was born, describing all unsolicited commercial e-mail. The Brits especially remembered their WWII dependence on SPAM® thus the repetitive reference to Spam in the Python sketch (whew!). Enough of the negatives....

SPAM®, dubbed “Hawaiian Steak” in the islands, remains incredibly popular witness Hawaii’s Annual Waikiki SPAM® Jam held each May. SPAM® is even sold in Hawaiian Burger Kings! We should also note that 60 million Americans still consume SPAM® at the rate of 3.8 cans a second. I know Culinary Institute of America (CIA) chefs who love the product!

If it meant that I would be ejected from the Good Old Boys Club I would gladly turn in my resignation in favor of my beloved canned meat product. With its almost indefinite shelf life, it’s also a great hedge against emergencies including storms (tornado and hurricane), flood and even pandemic flu.

At the end of it all I think that Mother would be proud of me despite my affection for SPAM® making allowances – perhaps for a recessive gene on my Father’s side?

Thanks, Aye

Ned Buxton

1 comment:

KenM said...

Remembering Betty
I fondly remember Betty, but alas, I was never treated to her cooking.I do however think of her as ofter as I walk through my den and see the 3 needlepoints that she so adeptly created out of nothing but her skill and a few threads and a piece of canvas.
May she rest in peace with her maker and all of the other "Saints" that she joind in our inevitable eternal home.