Jury Spaghetti: recipe courtesy “The Godfather”

If I were a juror in a mob trial, I would share my recipe for spaghetti sauce with my fellow jury-sufferers. This recipe was inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (and I’ve always assumed the recipe Clemenza uses is really the director’s), but the one below is my own. After a post-college tour of Italy, back home where I could never find pasta “red” sauce that tasted authentic, I spent years developing this ambrosia.

Catherine Mambretti’s Authentic Northern Italian Spaghetti Sauce (not to be confused with Sicilian or Roman—see below)

Ingredients (amounts don’t count—use your intuition)

  • Italian sausage (turkey is best IMHO, but pork works well, too)
  • “some” olive oil
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 large can of peeled, chopped tomatoes
  • 1 medium chopped white or yellow onion
  • 1 large squashed, diced clove of garlic
  • 1 cup Chianti (or your favorite dry red)
  • 1 tbl sugar (this from The Godfather—sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and enhances the flavors)
  • herbs: heavy on the oregano, basil, and anise seed (relative proportions are your choice, but I favor the basil and anise)
  • minimal salt (it isn’t healthy or necessary with all these spices)
  • minimal black pepper—if you like a bite to what you bite, use red pepper flakes to taste

Sicilian foods tend to include black olives. Avoid them in sauce—they end up like little bits of rubber. Roman and other more-Frankish sauces might include mushrooms. I’ve included mushrooms in this sauce, but after years of production, I’ve decided the texture just isn’t right.

Steps:

Start at least 2 hours before meal time, or make a huge batch and freeze it. This recipe improves with age.

  1. Relieve the sausages of their “casings,” aka “skins” (disgusting). Crumble the sausage. Try not to think of the movie Fargo.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil (extra virgin, in honor of the Corleone business).
  3. Smash and dice the garlic—throw it gracefully into the hot oil.
  4. Dice the onion—avoid gruesome amputations of your pinkies at this point. Throw the onion gracefully into the hot oil BEFORE the garlic browns.
  5. Add the crumbled Italian sausage to the hot pan. “Gray” the meat (as opposed to browning it—seared meat won’t absorb the flavors of the garlic and onion).
  6. The sausage shouldn’t produce much grease, especially if it’s turkey sausage, but even well-made pork sausage won’t be greasy. If your skillet seems to be greasy (in lieu of abandoning the effort) drain the excess grease. Spaghetti sauce IS NOT GREASY.
  7. Add the herbs NOW. Do not wait for the tomatoes and fluids. First add the anise seed. Let it sizzle awhile to release its oil. Then add oregano and basil “to taste.” (Don’t you hate that phrase? What I mean is add about a tablespoon of both to start—dried form. Add more if fresh.) Stir and distribute the aromatic flavors. Do NOT actually taste the sauce at this pointl.
  8. Add a tad of sea salt and few shakes of red pepper. Stir and sauté briefly.
  9. Diced, watery tomatoes go next. Schmush them around.
  10. The tomato paste goes next. Clean the can by pouring in some of the Chianti and stirring. Then pour the mixture into the sauce.
  11. Stir thoroughly.
  12. Add the rest of the Chianti—or even more, if you wish. The alcohol burns off.
  13. Use a fork to break up the largest bits of sausage. (I think a real Italian cook might actually process the sauce in a food-processor at the end of this, but I’m lazy and I don’t mind a moderately chunky, slightly chewy sauce. Furthermore, the smaller the chunks of meat, the more apt they are to absorb the many flavors you’ve added.)
  14. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover.
  15. Periodically break up the sausage chunks and add your favorite flavorings: wine, herbs, spices.

As Alton Brown says, “Just walk away.” (Good advice for all prospective jurors, too.)

I would let this sauce simmer for at least an hour. During this hour, check it often. Taste it by dipping a chunk of bread into it. Add salt, sugar, and herbs if you long for some flavor that you aren’t detecting in the sauce. Add more wine—“to taste.”

Don’t let the liquid level fall too low. This isn’t “sausage on spaghetti,” it’s a sauce. You need a fair amount of “red sauce” to coat the spaghetti noodles when you serve the dish. You can simply add water occasionally and stir.

The sauce (throughout this process) should remain thick. If it gets watery, raise the heat and boil off the liquid. Do NOT add any thickener, such as corn starch or flour. No! Just say No.

The Noodles

This is tricky. The noodles MUST be “al dente.” That doesn’t mean “crunchy.” It means “not mushy.” Test frequently. The time required for cooking depends on the diameter of the spaghetti noodles. If you’re not Italian (or a novice), check the noodles after 4 minutes, 5 minutes, and no later than 8 minutes.

Add olive oil to the water pot before it boils, in order to coat the noodles and prevent them from clumping together. Also add salt to lower the boiling point and to flavor the noodles—but only a little. (Stop consuming so much salt! You’d be surprised how much better things taste with less than 2000 milligrams of salt per day.)

If you serve the noodles as soon as they are done, drain them. If you have to wait a few minutes, run cold water over them to cool them and prevent them from continuing to cook (the hot sauce will warm the servings). Some people feel compelled to toss the noodles in butter. OK, but the Italians don’t.

Express Yourself!

Spaghetti sauce is like an aria. Everyone sings it differently. My only advice is that you avoid the temptation to make the sauce taste like tomatoes or the noodles to “crunch” like worms. My mother made wormy spaghetti. I had to relearn what it means to eat spaghetti.

Twirl or Slurp?

The Roman style of spaghetti eating is to twirl the noodles on a fork and then consume the neat package. The rest of Italy lets it all hang out. They even slurp like the Asians. Both are “proper.” Just don’t break up the noodles with your fork and try to stab them. Why? My bias.

Slurping is good. Dangling the noodles into your mouth from on high is good. Laughing at yourself as you do it is best.

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Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on Deadly Dishes

Conclusion

To summarize, detective stories, like classical dramas, observe a unity of time, lasting from a few hours for short Sherlock Holmes cases to several days for most book-length stories. Within this time, fictional detectives must give undivided attention to the mystery, while often needing to justify their actions and defend themselves and the crime victims.

Police detectives like Leaphorn, Chee, and Maigret risk that superiors in the police department will re-assign the case, or will cave in to pressure from political influences and cancel the investigation. Private eyes like Spenser or the Continental Op worry that their employers will become impatient and cut off their expense accounts or will block activity that compromises their interests. Criminals are always threatening to strike new victims or preparing to escape, and they often brutally attack their pursuers — they always seem to be catching Jim Chee in deserted locations on the reservation and blowing up his truck, they routinely send V.I. Warshawski to the hospital for a night, and they constantly engage Spenser and Hawk in fist fights and fire fights.

With all this rush, pressure, and danger, regular meals are a clear indication of the presence of reality and passage of time. Breakfast descriptions, emphasizing the arrival of each new morning and the state in which the detective finds himself, reinforce the reader’s impression that detectives are committing themselves to their missions with their every waking moment.

Mystery Stories

Christie, Agatha. Dead Man’s Folly. New York, Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1956.

Christie, Agatha. Hallowe’en Party. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1969.

Christie, Agatha. A Holiday For Murder. New York, Bantam, 1962 (Original Publication: Murder for Christmas, 1938).

Christie, Agatha. The Mystery of the Blue Train. New York, Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1971 (Original Publication: 1928).

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. New York, Berkeley Publishing, 1963.

Hammett, Dashiell. Red Harvest, New York, Vintage/Random House, 1972. (Original date: 1929)

Hillerman, Tony. A Thief of Time. New York, Harper, 1988.

Hillerman, Tony. People of Darkness. New York, Harper, 1980.

Hillerman, Tony. Talking God. New York, Harper, 1989.

Paretsky, Sara. Burn Marks. New York, Dell, 1990.

Paretsky, Sara. Deadlock. New York, Dell, 1984.

Parker, Robert. Playmates. London, Penguin, 1989.

Parker, Robert. Walking Shadow. New York, Berkeley, 1995.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Apparition. New York, Harcourt, 1964, transl, 1976.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Hotel Majestic. San Diego. Harcourt, 1942, transl, 1977.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret Meets a Milord. Harmondsworth, England; Penguin, 1931, transl, 1963.

Other Books

Freeling, Nicolas. The Kitchen Book; The Cook Book. Boston, David R. Godine, 1991. (Orginal dates: The Kitchen Book, 1970; The Cook Book, 1972)

Gorman, Ed, et al. The Fine Art of Murder. New York, Carroll & Graf, 1993.

Larmoth, Jeanine. Murder on the Menu. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.

 

A note from Postcard Mysteries: Mae Sander’s culinary blog is particularly “palatable” to me because of its literary twist. Mae blogs about books—mainly cookbooks—but also travel books and all books with an interesting twist on food. Partly as a result of her influence, I’ve decided to start a separate blog that addresses “all things criminal,” especially fictional crime. Don’t worry, though, the plight of jurors is my special cause, and I promise to keep blogging here until they pry my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

 

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on American Indian Detectives’ Food

 

American detectives are much more prone to indulge in hearty morning meals. In the midst of masses of detail on Indian religious rituals, customs, and foods, such as lunches of green chili stew, Tony Hillerman’s detectives’ breakfast shows you what kind of men they are. For example, Joe Leaphorn’s breakfast makes him miss his recently dead wife Emma:

He showered, inspected his face, decided he could go another few days without a shave, made himself a breakfast of sausage and fried eggs — violating his diet with the same guilty feelings he always had when Emma was away visiting her family. (A Thief of Time, p. 98)

Jim Chee, Hillerman’s other detective, lives a bachelor life. After one restless night:

He rose early, made coffee, and found four Twinkies abandoned in his otherwise empty bread box to round out his breakfast. It was his day off, and time to buy groceries, do the laundry, check three overdue books back into the Farmington library. (Thief, p. 270)

When Chee breakfasts alone in Washington DC, it’s a "cheese omelet in the hotel coffee shop" (Talking God, p. 183). Leaphorn also eats a late breakfast in the unfamiliar atmosphere of his hotel coffee shop, but we don’t hear what food this alien environment has to offer him. (p. 211)

 

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on ‘Jazz Age Detectives’

Even the Continental Op, Dashiell Hammett’s famous and often imitated detective, eats breakfast occasionally, getting over the previous night’s bootleg whiskey or dubious women. At a crucial point in Red Harvest, he even mixes his booze with laudanum, which reminds us we are reading a story from the 1920s. In this book, the Op spends quite a lot of time with such a woman, an associate of the mobsters. He needs her because she has information about the crime wave that he’s investigating. In one scene, he describes her behavior:

Her eyes were shiny because they were wet. She jabbed a handkerchief into them as we got out of the car.

‘My God, I’m hungry,’ she said, dragging me across the sidewalk. ‘Will you buy me a ton of chow mein?’

She didn’t eat a ton of it, but she did pretty well, putting away a piled-up dish of her own and half of mine. (Red Harvest, p. 75)

He spends the evening with her, trying to get information:

She decided she was hungry again. That reminded me that I was. It took half an hour or more to get waffles, ham and coffee off the stove. It took some more time to get them into our stomachs and to smoke some cigarettes over extra cups of coffee. (Red Harvest, p. 85)

Not long after their last meal together, she is murdered by one of the many criminals in the story. And the next morning, he says simply: "I ate breakfast alone." (p. 167).

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on ‘Boston Pretensions’

Spenser, the highly stereotyped detective in Robert B. Parker’s series, eats his way through almost every mystery, set mainly in Boston. The atmosphere – and the food — offers a big contrast to Hillerman’s southwest.

In Playmates, Spenser’s job is to investigate a college sports scandal; he establishes the terms of the investigation over several lunches and dinners with college officials and the coach. Next morning, the investigation continues as Spenser has breakfast with the basketball player suspected of manipulating the score. Since Spenser ate johnny cakes that morning before leaving his girlfriend’s apartment, at the restaurant he takes only coffee. Therefore, he can be an observer while the player eats "four fried eggs, over easy, two orders of bacon, home fries, four pieces of white toast, two large orange juices, and two containers of milk." (p. 37)

Another version of this scene takes place in Walking Shadow: an interviewee eats pancakes while Spenser just has coffee (p. 86). During this story, he and his partner also end up hanging out at a muffin shop where they choose from "blueberry, bran, corn, banana, carrot, pineapple, orange, cherry," and around 10 other flavors. (Shadow, p. 94)

When Spenser and his cohorts act like ordinary cops, of course they go for coffee and donuts (Shadow, pp. 77, 131). Predictable stereotypes and brand names dominate Parker’s writing. Throughout each story it’s eat, eat, eat, (with occasional breaks at a bar for a drink) always with Spenser showing his delicacy and sophistication no matter how crude or how refined the dining establishment!

Spenser’s gourmet tastes are always contrasted with the indifference to food and cooking shown by his girlfriend, the elegant and refined Susan. For example, while he experimented with cooking the johnny cakes in Playmates, she was sipping coffee; her picky eating reveals her character in book after book. Her refrigerator is always bare, unless Spenser does the shopping at a convenient gourmet market; he especially likes the market at Boston’s Fanuil Hall.

Above all, Spenser shows his virtue by his choice of food. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not: "I looked at my cold seafood assortment. I looked at Healy’s steak. I was glad I wasn’t eating it. I was glad I was eating cold seafood. Cold seafood was virtuous." (Shadow, p. 221)

The food details are consistent with Parker’s very mannered style. Unlike other fast-moving detective stories, Parker’s stories don’t emphasize violence — in Playmates, the sympathetic characters are never hurt or killed, the only deaths are a guilty basketball player who is never "onstage" and a number of hired hit men, shot instantly when they attack Spenser. It’s all a part of Parker’s post-modern extension of the hard-boiled detective story.

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on ‘Country Houses and Other British Stuff’

The upper class environment in the British mystery differs dramatically from the American hard-boiled detective story with its very physical atmosphere and wide individual and class differences

English mystery meals may be served by land-ladies in genteel studios or by butlers in well-appointed dining rooms. Jeanine Larmoth, in Murder on the Menu, a book about the portrayal of social customs in English mysteries, summarizes the food situation this way:

In mysteries, food is . . . one of the few means of creating an impression of life. Emotions are avoided; even physical realities are kept at a minimum. People don’t breathe, except their last; they have hysterics, but they rarely cry; only the most suspicious characters sweat; bathrooms are merely places where baths are drawn and pills are switched. In short, food serves an important function in giving a sense of reality. (Murder on the Menu, p. 157)

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories convey a maximum of suspense in a minimum of text. Meals indicate that time is passing normally, in a world that is normal in spite of being inhabited by the intellectual giant Holmes. When Holmes calls for a quick supper before he moves in on the criminals, it’s not what he has to eat, but the timing and the contrast with as-yet unsolved crimes that are important. Breakfast can illustrate Holmes’s habits or the ordinary life of Dr. Watson. For example, in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" Watson begins his narration: "We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes . . .." (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, p. 78)

The contrast between menacing evil and mundane detail is very strong in ‘The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb." As the story begins, the newly mutilated engineer comes to Dr. Watson for medical help; although it is early in the morning, as soon as Watson has provided basic first aid, he brings him to Holmes, in order to try to find out who has attacked him with a cleaver and severed his thumb. As they arrive, you are reminded of the regularity of Holmes’s existence by this description:

Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of the Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe . . .. He received us in his quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh rashers and eggs, and joined us in a hearty meal. (Adventures, p. 207)

Once they have eaten, Holmes hears the bizarre story of the engineer’s previous night, and goes off with him and Watson to try to catch the counterfeiters who have done the evil deed. If anything, Doyle is the most clever of all the mystery writers I know at using food clues to set the stage for his stories.

Agatha Christie uses food to create atmosphere and show character. She uses apples as a theme in Hallowe’en Party, which begins when a young girl is murdered by drowning in a bucket that had been used for bobbing for apples. Elsewhere in this story food indicates hospitality — in a shallow sort of way. The murderess (as we will later learn) offers detective Hercule Poirot "morning coffee with two sugared biscuits" (Party, p. 55); a more sympathetic hostess, the sister of an old inspector friend, offers him tea and sausage "cooked to perfection" (Party, p. 71)

When he is alone, Poirot’s food choices show him to be simultaneously picky and sophisticated — for example, his valet serves him a "tisane" or some chocolate (The Mystery of the Blue Train, p. 150 & 171).

In some Agatha Christie stories such as A Holiday for Murder and The Mystery of the Blue Train, meals are mentioned to mark the passage of time, but she rarely provides details about what the various detectives, suspects, or policemen had to eat. In others, Christie the descriptions are lavish, portraying a whole array of characters in terms of their food choices. For example, in Dead Man’s Folly:

Poirot came down to breakfast on the following morning at nine thirty. Breakfast was served in prewar fashion: a row of hot dishes on an electric heater. Sir George was eating a full-sized Englishman’s breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and kidneys. Mrs. Oliver and Miss Brewis had a modified version of the same. Michael Weyman was eating a plateful of cold ham. Only Lady Stubbs was unheedful of the flesh-pots and was nibbling thin toast and sipping black coffee. (Folly, p. 43-4).

Oddly, we learn nothing of what Poirot himself chose to eat at this revealing meal.

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on Parisian Crime Food

In detective stories, you need to learn as much as possible as fast as you can. Detective writers use lots of different kinds of details to tell you about the detectives and the cases– often, this includes food and drink. From the solicitous attention of Madame Maigret to the indifference of Spencer’s girlfriend Susan, and from the fussy old-maidish tastes of Hercule Poirot to the macho life-style choices of V.I. Warshawski, breakfast in particular reveals much about fictitious detectives.


A French Detective Gourmet


Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret is renowned for the hearty French cooking of his wife and for the cafes and restaurants where he seems to go during every investigation. Most of the time, food, along with other details, serves to point to Maigret’s lower-class origins, and particularly, to establish his common background with the criminals that he is investigating. Food tastes and attitudes also help to distinguish him from higher-class suspects or witnesses that he must interview.


When Maigret is at home, Madame Maigret fixes his coffee for breakfast; this is consistent with French habits where little else is eaten early in the morning, except perhaps some bread. When he’s in a hurry, he may not have time to drink it, as in Maigret and the Apparition. In contrast, during the tense questioning of suspects at police headquarters, he orders beer and sandwiches from a nearby cafe at any hour, even at breakfast time.


In Maigret and the Hotel Majestic, the entire story centers around a breakfast cook in a large hotel; Simenon describes every detail of the guests’ breakfast from the point of view of the harried workers below the elegant hotel rooms. Maigret feels much more comfortable in the lower depths of the service quarters than above, with the elegant and wealthy guests. His class feelings also come up when he goes to the home of the breakfast cook, where dinner simmers on the stove. Immediately afterwards, in his own home, the stew that Madame Maigret is cooking smells exactly the same as the one he had just smelled in the home of the cook, a man implicated in a murder (Hotel Majestic, p. 35.) Madame cooks stew often, in these stories, building up the homey atmosphere that contrasts to the police station and seedy crime scenes.



Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander—What V.I. the P.I. Eats

Tough Chicago


V.I. Warshawski, the hard-boiled woman investigator and narrator in the mystery series by Sara Paretsky, sometimes seems to turn Spenser on his head. While her violence is much more graphic and pervasive than Parker’s, Paretsky’s food descriptions are aggressively unpretentious. Also throughout the stories, V.I.’s doctor friend Lotty, a stereotyped Eastern-European Jewish nurturer, often feeds her while helping her heal miraculously fast from her war wounds. Meals mark the passage of time in the stories as well, and point up that a human being with a human appetite is behind the super-womanly deeds of V.I.


V.I. is a terrible cook and housekeeper: “The refrigerator didn’t have much of interest,” she says at one point in Deadlock, so after her early morning 5-mile run, she reports: “I drank orange juice, showered, and had some fresh-ground coffee with a hard roll and cheese. It was seven-thirty.” (p. 48) During this investigation V.I. is so absorbed in detecting that she sometimes skips breakfast altogether:



  • It was three in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten. … I went into the Sport, a little bar and grill . . . , for a turkey sandwich. In honor of the occasion I also had a plate of french fries and a Coke. My favorite soft drink, but I usually avoid it because of the calories. (p. 224)

V.I.’s refrigerator is often bare; it’s one of the insistently repeated clues about her personality and her obsessive dedication to investigating. Sometimes she has to settle for a peanut butter sandwich; more often, for spaghetti. When she has the opportunity, though, V.I. does appreciate the finer things, and enjoys steaks, fine wine, or smoked salmon at a restaurant or good sherry in the home of an upscale investigative target. The overall function of food in these stories is to show how she rejects the excessive sophistication of others, and thus how her author recasts the excesses of other detective writers.


 


Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM


See what Sara Paretsky has to blog about at The Outfit.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander—food for jurors’ thoughts

Catherine has made the point that jurors often feel mistreated while being forced to wait in uncomfortable rooms and eat unpalatable food only when they are so permitted. This situation has not been ignored by authors of courtroom dramas.

In The Runaway Jury by John Grisham, there’s a key scene depicting the resentment of jurors sitting on a case in Biloxi. After the judge’s recess is called, they wait with increasing frustration for a deli lunch to be delivered to the jury room. In fact, the non-delivery is part of a plot to influence them. After an hour, one juror (who’s part of the plot) sneaks out and walks down the street to Mary Mahoney’s, a locally famous restaurant where he knows that the judge will be lunching. On the judge’s table, he saw warm bread, leafy salads, and large glasses of iced tea. When the judge saw the juror — recognizing him by his badge — "his fork froze halfway up with a meaty grilled shrimp stuck to the end of it." Judge Harkin also had "a speck of goat cheese on his lower lip."

The juror describes how the jury has been waiting for an hour: "We’re hungry, sir, and we’re upset." The judge quickly checks into the jury’s lack of food, and invites them to eat at Mahoneys. "They dined on crabcakes and grilled snapper, fresh oysters, and Mahoney’s famous gumbo." This good will established in the jury is a key to later events in the book (p. 75-77).

In The Oath by John Lescroart, jurors and other court figures head from the Hall of Justice in San Francisco to a dive across the street. Their destination is Lou the Greek’s, which has been "an institution for a generation."

"The entrance was through a frankly urine-stained bail bondsman’s corridor, which led to an unlit stairway — six steps to a set of leatherette double doors….at 11:00 the kitchen opened and the place would fill up fast." In these carefully-described seedy surroundings "Lou’s wife, Chui, would recombine and endless variety of Chinese and Greek ingredients for her daily special, which was the only item on the menu. Lou… would give it a name like Kung-Pao Chicken Pita or Yeanling Happy Family, and customers couldn’t seem to get enough…. "Lou’s popularity as a lunch spot was a continuing mystery even for those who frequently ate there themselves."

Lou the Greek’s figures in other San Francisco courtroom novels by the same author. In this one the customers are lawyers and courtroom reporters and the like. Jury members too are stuck with the minimal choices and poor quality of Lou the Greek’s, which adds local color and atmosphere to Lescroart’s courtroom dramas. (p. 23 -24)

 

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Jury Duty Food

I’m inaugurating a new category with this post: “Jury Duty Food.”


A quick Google search for “jury duty” + “food” produces less than half-a million-hits (very few by Google standards). Most of the hits are on blogs about restaurants in the vicinity of specific local courthouses, such as “Jury Duty is Like ‘The Standard’” (a diner in La La Land).


A few are appropriately cautionary and designed for first-time responders to a jury summons:



  • Facing Jury Duty” (in my favorite courthouse, Cook County Criminal Courthouse), where a wise child brings her own Twinkies, Cheetos, and energy bars
  • Jury Duty FAQ” (Minnesota court ‘handbook,’ and be forewarned, like every government handbook I’ve seen on the subject, it is so brief as to be meaningless)

Most people’s jury-duty stint consists of hours in a stuffy, uncomfortable jury room waiting to be selected for a panel. While enduring this purgatory, you can expect to eat vending-machine food until lunch, when you will be let loose to scour the neighborhood for sanitary kitchen facilities. In the Cook County Courthouse, you are “permitted” to buy lunch in the cafeteria, where courthouse employees dine on barely edible sandwiches and limp salads. This is infinitely better than leaving the courthouse: the neighborhood includes the Cook County Jail next door (with barb-wire topped walls and automatic-rifle-toting guards in towers).


If you’re selected for a jury, your dietary options change. Apparently, in Manhattan you may still be let loose to eat at local restaurants (in James Patterson’s The Jury that’s what happens—and the jury takes advantage of the opportunity to violate their oath not to discuss the case until deliberations begin). In Chicago, though, food is brought in to the jury deliberation room. A friend who was in college when she served on a jury said they brought in carry-out food from local restaurants, and the rest of the jury let her take the leftovers home with her. I wasn’t that lucky—our food was brought in from the cafeteria. I remember the “hot lunch” in particular: it was gray meat patties in a slightly brown goo. The next day I brought my lunch; the rest of the jury thought I was brilliant, because they hadn’t thought of it, too. It was the one moment that caused me to seriously doubt their intelligence.


My favorite food blogger, Mae Sander, tells me she knows of no jury-specific culinary literature, but she does know of many crime and mystery novels in which food plays a big part for the detectives and cops. In fact, her latest blog post is “What do members of the Yiddish Policemen’s Union eat?”


I’ve asked Mae to guest-blog on this topic and she graciously accepted. During the coming week I’ll be posting a series of notes on fictional crime-stoppers’ “tastes.”