Food and Memory- Marguerite´s

Maryellen Burns shares childhood food memories from Sacramento, California.  Not being a native, it´s fascinating to hear about places that have since disappeared.  Thanks Maryellen!

For Marcel Proust it was a crumb of Madeline cake dipped in tea that awakened a whole chain of memories.  For Ruth Reichel, it was the comfort of apples.  For Nigel Slater, toast.  For me, it was the smell of this morning’s bacon.

Yes, it’s the thought of cold bacon and eggs and butter congealed on Wonder Bread toast that really got my memory glands going.  A breakfast I ate almost every Saturday from the time I was five until I was nearly 17, at Jim Denio’s Auction, in Roseville, California.

I calculate I ate that breakfast 500 times or more, each week blending into the other but creating a single memory.  My dad always woke my two brothers and I around 5 a.m.  We got our clothes on quietly in the dark, careful not to wake up my mother who had to work on Saturdays.  He’d hustle us into the van – Keith in the front with Scott and I wedged in the back seat – with banana boxes full of Chinese artifacts, art glass, broken rifle scopes, ephemera and whatever antiques he´d finished making that week.

Thirty minutes later we´d be on Vernon Street, old town Roseville, behind a long line of other dealers.  My dad drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he waited to cross the railroad tracks and cut his way past other dealers to our permanent stand, just inside the main buildings, across from Jimboy’s Taco’s and Marguerite’s, the diner that served that unforgettable breakfast, week after week.

The light would just be beginning to rise.  We unloaded the van quickly, my brother Keith handing boxes to the three of us as we stacked them on the ground.  I jumped up and down between boxes trying to keep warm, but would stop every now and then to watch my breath breath as it formed clouds in the air from the cold.

It seemed hours for the diner to open.  It was housed in a small square makeshift building, with closed sides and just two windows — the window where you ordered and the window where you picked up your food.  On the left side were a series of three or four picnic tables, sitting directly in the sun, shielded just slightly by an open pergola.

I could smell the coffee first, a cross between burnt caramel and sweet cream.  Then hear the sound of potatoes being grated, but when I tasted the bacon as it’s fragrance swept past me, I knew it was time to eat.

It was important to be first in line, as tables filled up quickly and it was much more pleasant to eat at the tables with all other dealers than at our stand.

No need to order when I finally got to the front of the line.  Marguerite already had it on the griddle by the time I got to the window.  Four pieces of hickory smoked thick bacon, two eggs over easy, crispy hand cut hash browns, and that pillowy white toast, slathered with whole milk butter that congealed rather than melted on the bread.  It would be served hot through the window but in the few seconds it took to find a seat, it was already cold.

We ate at four communal tables.  Marguerite always served “the regulars” first.  The Englishman thought the breakfast was the best he’d had since arriving in the states, but missed the traditional English breakfast of streaky bacon, pork n’ beans, grilled tomato, blood sausage, and toast dripping with bacon grease.  Gus had migrated from the south and would wax poetic about his mother’s creamed ham over toast. Jessie had the best of both worlds.  He supplied the café with the fresh chorizo that came scrambled with three eggs.

Each had a story to tell, and I would sit and listen and listen, savoring each one and each taste of that glorious food, not wanting the breakfast to end, though eager to get to work.  At noon my dad would give me   fifty cents to run over to Jimboy’s and order two taco’s, the orange grease joyfully running down my arm, the taste like fireworks in my mouth.

Marguerite’s Deconstructed Bacon and Eggs

If you want to replicate Marguerite’s Bacon and Eggs fry up thick-sliced, hickory or apple-smoked bacon, with two large sunnyside or over easy eggs.  Toast Wonderbread but let it get cold before slathering on butter and eat it outside at dawn’s early light.

Or, if you have an abundance of tomatoes in the garden make this deconstructed bacon, egg and tomato salad.  Use whatever you have on hand.  I had a mix of heirloom tomatoes, and shallots but you could use any tomato, or red onion.  I used Spanish sherry vinegar in honor of Lynn and Mark, who are off enjoying Spain, while I sit here in Sacramento!

·      6-8 fresh tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch pieces

·      12 basil leaves, torn

·      3 tablespoons sliced shallots

·      1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

·      2 tablespoons Spanish sherry vinegar

·      Salt and freshly ground pepper

·      ½ pound thick-sliced bacon

·      Two chopped hard boiled eggs,

·      Sour dough bread, sliced, toasted, buttered

In a bowl, toss the tomatoes, basil, shallot, olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper.  Let stand 15 minutes or time it takes you to get the rest of the salad ready.

Cut bacon into 1/4  inch thick sticks (lardoons).  In a heavy skillet cook bacon over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden (or how you like it).  Drain.

Hard boil two eggs and chop while still warm.  Be careful not to burn your hands.

Make toast.  Butter it.

Assemble the salad on the toast (basically a bruschetta) then sprinkle bacon and chopped egg on top.  Eat with a fork and knife or pick up with your hands.

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