Meridian Star


December 19, 2012

The perfect gift

MERIDIAN —    When I opened the door to my office the other day the aroma hit me right away. It took about two seconds to decipher the origin of the smoky fragrance and I hoped it was coming from the room that houses my desk in the back of the building.

    The office where I work on a daily basis is not connected to any of the restaurants. It is in an entirely separate facility nearby. So any food fragrances are foreign to these walls.

    There weren’t any large shipping boxes in the front of the office, so I knew that there hadn’t been a food delivery that day. This was a good sign. The source of that superb scent was probably not going to follow its typical path and be taken to one of the restaurant kitchens.

    As I walked down the hall towards the back of the building, the smell of expertly cured and smoked pork filled the air. It was emanating from my office. It was, as I had suspected, Allan Benton’s bacon, and I was ecstatic.

    In 12 years of columns and well over 500,000 words published, I have never used the adjective “otherworldly.” Actually, I am not sure if the Webster’s definition of that word even applies to foodstuffs. But that is the word I am about to use.

     Benton’s bacon is otherworldly.

     Apparently, some friends from Hattiesburg had been travelling down I-75 near Madisonville, Tenn., and — did what any wise person should do when they are within 60 miles of Madisonville— pulled into the Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams facility. Benton was on site, and when he found out they were from Hattiesburg, asked them to deliver several pounds of bacon to me, an early Christmas gift. I love that guy.

    There are only a few people I have met in my 51 years who consistently achieve perfection in their chosen field. None do it with the ease and passion of Benton. He cures and smokes pork the way it was done hundreds of years ago. It takes time, it takes skill, and it takes patience. It also takes a lot of love.

    While spending several weeks in Spain last year, eating Jamon Iberico— universally recognized as the best ham in the world— I followed the process from the pigs foraging for acorns under the cork and oaks, to the curing process, and finally the plate. One afternoon I spent a substantial amount of time a room where 150,000 of the world’s finest hams were hanging and wasn’t as impressed as I had been with the original nickel tour I received in Benton’s facility over a decade ago.

    Granted, Benton’s hams are entirely different than the hams of Spain, but they taste like “home.” In October my mother-in-law sent 12 pounds of Benton’s bacon to me as a birthday present (and my wife says that I’m “hard to shop for”).

    Food is the perfect gift. As I grow older, and as my desire for material junk wanes, I appreciate simpler, more satisfying— and flavorful— presents.

    A man I know makes the best fig preserves I have ever tasted, and on occasion and when the figs “had a good year,” he brings a few jars by my office. I have written for several decades about my longtime across-the-street neighbor, Mary Virginia McKenzie and her orange sweet rolls. Those sourdough sweet rolls magically find their way to my doorstep just before holidays and on rare occasions throughout the year. I have eaten them every Christmas morning for 51 years, save last year when I didn’t have the foresight to ship a few dozen to Spain for the holidays.

    The Christmas season usually bring a small metal tin of my other longtime across-the-street neighbor, Larry Foote’s salty pecans, one friend brings cheese straws, another brings Martha Washington candy.

    My grandmother made fudge cake. At least that’s what she called it. It wasn’t fudge and it wasn’t cake. They were actually brownies, but I guess that’s what they called them in Nashville and so that’s what we still call them. I would give anything I own to see her walk through my door again with a tin of fudge cake.

    This year I will give honey from the hives at my garden and olive oil shipped from my friend Enzo in Tuscany.

    This year put on an apron. Bake a batch of cookies or brownies. Walk them over to your neighbor’s house and let them know that you truly care. You took the time to prepare something special for them, a gift with a story, and one that means something to you as well.

     Food is love. Food is the perfect gift. The only thing that might compare is my newly reborn obsession with vinyl albums. Music is great, but it usually doesn’t taste very good.

Text Only
Biz Marquee
New Today

Do you think the city of Meridian should aggressively enforce the city's code enforcement laws on litter, abandoned homes and overgrown lots by issuing tickets and stiff fines?

     View Results
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide