The Secret Language of Food, from Pop-Tarts to Cheez Doodles | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

JOIN! 12 Weeks for $1

Episode 436
December 4, 2020

The Secret Language of Food, from Pop-Tarts to Cheez Doodles

The Secret Language of Food, from Pop-Tarts to Cheez Doodles

Linguist Dan Jurafsky investigates the language of food, from the hidden meaning of adjectives on restaurant menus to the psychological attraction of brand names like Cheerios and Pop-Tarts. Plus, we hear how gospel star Mahalia Jackson became famous for her fried chicken franchise; J. Kenji López-Alt gives us tips on how to get young kids to eat adventurously; and we make crispy German Pork Schnitzel.

This episode is brought to you by Master Class.

Questions in this Episode:

"I have been researching versions of Emily Dickinson's Black Cake to make as Christmas gifts this year. Some of the recipes stressed the need for a long, slow cook: 3+ hours at 250 degrees, while others used the standard 350 degrees for less time. Could you explain how a lower/longer bake would affect the outcome?"

"Help! My brown turkey fig tree is bursting with fresh figs. Suggestions? And also, how do brown turkey figs differ from other varieties?"

"I grow my own sage, but when I make a sage butter sauce for gnocchi the flavor is too mild. It’s not rich like a restaurant serving. Any suggestions, to make the flavor stronger?"

"When I was growing up in the south the sausage was so delicious and tender and by the time it was done it would be swimming in grease. Sausage nowadays, though, barely releases any fat and has a tough, rubbery texture. What has changed?"

"I have leftover ham from Thanksgiving and would like to make a 'ham pot pie' similar to a "chicken pot pie." Do you have such a recipe or an alternative recipe that I could try that uses leftover ham?"

Milk Street Radio Dan Jurafsky

Christopher Kimball: Hi, this is Christopher Kimball. Thanks for listening to Milk Street Radio. You can go to our website 177 Milk Street com to get our recipes to stream or a television show or to get our latest cookbooks. Here's this week's show is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're chatting with Dan Jurasky about the language of food. He analyzes restaurant menus and the historical context behind modern English food names.

Dan Jurasky: Normally when we borrow foods, we do borrow the word with them that that is the most common situation like you know when you start eating bok choy you we use the word bok choy, we don't call it Chinese white flour and cabbage and there there's something about the name of a food it's as if you know names get at some kind of inner primal essence. And so, ketchup is just ketchup like how could you call it something else?

CK: Also coming up, we make crispy German pork schnitzel. J Kenji Lopez talks to the relationship that young children develop with food. The first step it's my interview with author songwriter Professor Alice Randall, about gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, and her fried chicken restaurants. Alice, welcome to Milk Street.

Alice Randall: It's wonderful to be with you, Chris.

CK: So, this is a story about Mahalia Jackson and a fried chicken franchise. I guess fried chicken, and gospel and church have a long history together.

AR: They do. But I do want to note that people think of fried chicken as the iconic soul food. But fried chicken was not commonly eaten by black people until the mid and early 1960s on a regular basis in United States. No as in the plantation South fried chicken was not something that enslaved Africans would have eaten. And it was only with things such as the Colonel's fried chicken, Mahalia Jackson, these fried chicken enterprises, that fried chicken becomes a weekly daily event or a staple on the African American table.

CK: So okay, Colonel Sanders comes along, you mentioned that all of a sudden, there was an interest in in financing, chicken franchises, Mini pearl from the Grand Ole Opry, and then Mahalia Jackson. From Mahalia Jackson, this was not a money-making opportunity. This was something quite different.

AR: Absolutely. For Mahalia Jackson, this was the kind of church this was a sacred act, that actually had to do with money making, but not money making for Mahalia. She was very interested in creating economic opportunity for others, when she decided to get involved with fried chicken in this corporate way, she was trying to move fried chicken out of the kitchen, out of the history of domestic service, into an environment where black people, and particularly black women could work and make money, selling fried chicken in a safe space.

CK: So, Mahalia thought about this as an opportunity in terms of the workplace and the pride of the workplace. Exactly. How did she think about it?

AR: Well, she was very concerned with workers rights. So specifically, she offered her employees, paid vacations, low cost, life insurance, and major medical benefits, she also eventually will actually start a management school for these employees. The idea was that they would come in and grow and rise, not that they would come in and stay in the same low paid position in which they arrived, she started them higher and planned on lifting them higher, just like that song of hers,

CK: Was there someone who was really keen on the food itself and trying to define the food at that franchise as being different or better than other places.

AR: Frankly, what the focus was, was quality food at a price. And the whole spin was that the physical place would honor African Americans and it looked like a church that would be lovely that there was thought even put into the architecture. Because even if you had the experience of going to a black owned meet and greetmost of these establishments struggle to survive. They were not highly profitable entities that were able to offer you a thought out elegant but simple table that Mahalia Jackson was able to offer.

CK: She was obviously very special also as a singer and a performer you, write. Mahalia could turn a congregation into an audience and an audience is a more powerful thing than a congregation. Could you talk about that? I think it's a lovely turn of phrase.

AR: I absolutely can. The person who appreciated that more than any other person was Martin Luther King. A congregation is always a supplicant, an audience makes demands. An audience is a collaborator who makes transformation possible. Martin Luther King loved to have Mahalia Jackson with him. He considered her to be one of his closest friends. It is not just an apocryphal story, there's good documentation she is the one who told him to say at the March on Washington, tell them about the dream. It was my Mahalia Jackson, that he had leading the political audience with Joshua led the battle of Jericho,

CK: She would only sing gospel, I believe. She was not interested in commercial recordings, like rock and roll, right?

AR: Right. She began her life singing in the church, like so many black people, she and she starts off as a domestic servant as a maid in New Orleans. But in 1947, she will have a giant hit record, and it's going to sell 8 million copies. 8 million records back then in 1947. This is Beyonce big in the context of the time

CK: And what was the name of the song?

AR: That song was Move On Up a Little Higher. And this is a really fascinating and complicated song that includes food imagery. I'm going to feast with the Rose of Shannon. I think it speaks directly into the experience of black women working as domestic servants. And it speaks to the experience of all black people either being invited to or restricted from a table.

CK: I love the quote from Mahalia. She says, I've seen men that have lost their pride, and I brought them to my house, I would feed those people make big bowls of potato salad. And today, that's my joy when people come to my house. So, I love the way she's connected food and feeding people, to people who've lost their pride. You want to just talk about that?

AR: I think that Mahalia offered food as a balm in Gilead, the process of being African in these Americas it's an emotional, physical, and economic assault. I think that there are two great ways to feed people with food and with music, and Mahalia gave both.

CK: So, it's been almost 50 years now, since Mahalia Jackson's restaurants closed, why did they stay in the memory is are so beloved even today, when so many other franchises went out of business and everyone's forgotten them?

AR: Simply that our at Mahalia’s was sacred that you got to sit at the table, received the food be respected and knowing you are respecting the person who was serving and the person who was cooking that it was food without tragedy. And in black space and black food world that is a memorable triumph.

Mahalia Jackson music

CK: That was author professor Alice Randall. Her article for Gravy, is Glory Fried and Glorified, Mahalia Jackson's chicken

You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now. My cohost Sara Moulton, I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101, also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. So, before we get to calls Sara, I have a question. You're a good leftover person in terms of reusing stuff so what's your best leftover recipe?

Sara Moulton: Oh goodness, it's sort of boring. It all just goes into soup. There you go. Whatever it is add beans, add leftover starch. You know some tomato product, chicken broth you're good to go and then throw a little grated Parmesan cheese on top.

CK: So, is this like my neighbor in Vermont who made compost soup so what whatever leftover was the starting soup for the next day?

SM: Yes, exactly. Compost soup is brilliant title. I love that.

CK: Well, she had soup that was 10 years old. I think by the time

SM: Oh, that’s frightening. Well, no, no, no, our stuff only makes it one extra day. Oh, but I will tell you one and I may have shared this once before, it's my mother's recipe, which is when we make mashed potatoes, even if it's smashed potatoes, you know, with the skins still in it, I make double. And then the next day, you know, they're much firmer than they were day one, you shape them into patties. You season them first dip them into wonder flour and then sauté them in either butter or olive oil until they get crispy over low heat. And they are so delicious are almost better than they were round once. Yes, there the best

CK: Okay, let’s take a call. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: This is Sharon Burnham from Roanoke, Virginia.

CK: How are you?

Caller: I'm well. Thank you. How are you?

CK: I'm pretty good. How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I got interested and attempting to make Emily Dickinson's black cake. I happen to like a good fruitcake. And this seemed like a wonderful idea to make in advance so that I could give it away at Christmas time. But when I was researching various recipes, I was really struck by the difference in temperature and length of cooking time. And it made me wonder how that affects the actual bake of a fruit heavy cake.

CK: What were some of the lower temperatures and what were some of the higher temperatures?

Caller: Two of the three recipes Have you bake at 250 degrees, one of those is for three hours. The other you bake for two hours with a pan of water sitting below the loaf pans. And then you remove the pan of water and bake for another hour and a half. The recipe that I was planning to follow because I liked the individual fruits that they choose for it uses the standard 350 degrees and it says it only bakes for an hour, it seems so different between them that I was curious what effect the temperature has.

CK: There are two totally different ways of looking at this. Personally, I would go with a lower temperature. And the reason is, puddings, you know, English desserts were steamed, and steam isn't going to get all that hot, its boiling water, it has little more energy than water does. But it's not going to be 350 degrees so it's going to give you a more gradual heat, even heat. And if you have a big heavy dense batter, it might be the way to go. If you use a higher temperature, you get more maillard reaction that is maillard reaction has to occur to temperature over 300 degrees. So you might get some more browning. But I don't think this kind of dense cake is about browning, like angel food cake or something, I think you want thorough even heating of a very dense battery. So, I'm going to pick door number two, which is the one is that the lower temperature for the longer time, because it's dense, you want even cooking, and you could end up with an overcooked outer perimeter at 350 before the inside really gets fully cooked. Fruit cakes are not things with a big rise anyway. It's not like chiffon cake. I go low and slow. And now Sara is going to go?

SM: Well, I'm going to pick door number three, which is the one with the ball of water. I sort of like that idea of the added moisture in the oven, and then remove the moisture and then let it finish cooking through

CK: The low temperature is going to give you a denser moistier product, (I think so) the higher temperature is going to give you something more like banana bread, and it's going to be a little drier and probably a little lighter. I think the tradition here is dense and moist.

SM: I agree. We actually agree. It's rare.

Caller: Well, I like that idea to baking low and slow.

CK: Yeah,

SM: Yeah. Sharon, please reach out after you've done it and let us know how it went.

Caller: All right, I will. And I hope when I give them away, people won't go. Oh! fruitcake, because it's not a fruitcake, it's a black cake.

SM: Yes, yes. Just call it.

CK: Just throw in Emily Dickinson that will help.

SM: add a poem or two.

Caller: I plan to do that actually, but I just haven't decided on which one.

SM: All right.

CK: All right, Sharon, a literary culinary question. Thank you.

SM: We like that. Thank you.

Caller: I appreciate it.

SM: Take care.

Caller: Bye.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Becky. I'm from Collingswood, New Jersey.

CK: How are you?

Caller: I'm doing well. Thank you for taking my call. My question is about breakfast sausage. When I was growing up, we would slice the sausage patties and put them in an iron skillet. And by the time they were done, they'd released all this wonderful fat and the texture of the sausage was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. But now, when I buy sausage, it barely releases any fat. And the texture is rather chewy. So, my question is what is changed?

CK: Two things. Pigs today have been bred for lower fat content so, you're dealing with leaner meat to start with, I mean, any sausage that you're adding fat to it, it's not just ground pork, you'd want to add at least 30% fat roughly, to the meat. So, my guess is that whoever is preparing that sausage is adding much less fat to it and starting with leaner meat to start with. The really good breakfast sausage is usually done by a local butcher, you can actually ask them to add more fat. If you're buying in a supermarket, it's going to tend to be lean. It's about the pork, and it's about the amount of fat you're writing back in when you grind it.

Caller: Okay

CK: Sara?

SM: Yeah, no, I agree. 100%. I mean, I don't know if you're asking us Becky, how do you make your own? Are you?

Caller: Well, yes. You know, what if I was to take, say, a piece of pork shoulder,

SM: Which is the appropriate kind of pork, you'd want to use, yeah and grind it up

Caller: Would a food processor work for that? I don't have a meat grinder.

SM: Do you have a stand mixer?

Caller: Yes.

SM: Do you have the grinding attachment?

Caller: No, I don't.

SM: Okay, well, there's a quick way to grind up meat, you cut the meat into say one-inch chunks, and throw it in the freezer for about a half an hour, you know, in like one layer. And then in small batches, no more than one pound at a time, pulse it in a food processor until you get the texture that you're looking for. And if you're using pork shoulder, just make sure there's a fair amount of fat in there. And then after you've rounded up, you can add your seasonings, whatever you're going to add. I like thyme sometimes a few sweet spices go in there. And you could just make it into patties like hamburgers and fry it up and it should be yummy.

CK: If it was me, I would separate the meat from the fat and I would use leaf lard I would use the fat around the kidney. If you can buy that and use that as your fat. When you make a sausage, you have to divide the fat from the meat because you have to get the right ratio just grinding up a shoulder’s probably not going to do it, you are going to have to add fat in to get the right percentage because their percentage is really critical.

Caller: Okay,

CK: And if you can get the fat around the kidney, and a butcher shop would have that not rendered but just the raw fat. That would be the right to use. I have actual sausage grinder. Nope, you're making a ton of sausage. That's great. But you can use what Sara suggested or the food processor for small amounts will work as well.

SM: Yeah, you just want it to be cold. It won't grind up as well. If if it's at room temperature, so you want to dry partially frozen.

Caller: Okay, that sounds great

CK: Hopefully that’s helpful. More fat, more fat

SM: Okay, we all agree about that

Caller: Sounds good

CK: Take care.

Caller: Yes. Thank you so much.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio, give us a ring anytime the number is 855-426-9843 One more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: This is Denise Moon from southern California.

SM: Hi, Denise. How can we help you today?

Caller: I've been trying to make a sage butter sauce for spaghetti and pasta gnocchi and I've been finding that my Sage butter sauce just doesn't have that rich, deep flavor. And I'm using my fresh sage that I have from the garden they’re broad leaves when I cut them, they have wonderful oils and smells. But I’m just not getting that book that I would like to have that you can say yes, I'm tasting that sage.

SM: Tell me how you're making your sauce?

Caller: Well, I'm start with browning the butter. And then I take my fresh sage and I chop it up into kind of broad pieces. And I also rub them to kind of break the oil. And then I put them into the butter and let it brown some more and it has very nice aromatic smell. But then when I put it in with the pasta, it doesn't have that sage flavor.

SM: Huh. Let me ask you, are you adding any salt to the recipe?

Caller: No.

SM: I think that might be part of the problem. I think you need to point it up a bit with some salt. How much butter for how much pasta?

Caller: I use between four and six tablespoons of butter for about eight to 12 ounces of pasta.

SM: That might be enough. One last question. Are you really browning the butter nicely, I mean does it have a nice nutty color and aroma?

Caller: because my pan is dark I can't really say and I haven't really checked to see if it was nutty or having a nice aroma so. ..

SM: So that might be the problem right there because you're missing that toasty, oasty buttery flavor. See if you can find a pan that's not dark on the bottom. And make sure that you get it nice and golden and toasty smelling. And make sure you have enough sage in there as well. And do add some salt to it for sure. Or toss in some parmesan cheese when you add it to the pasta as well. Chris, what do you think?

CK: I just want to confirm that my cohost said toasty oatsy is that what you said?

SM: Yes, I did

CK: Toasty 0atsy

SM: Too much time inside. What can I tell you

CK: I have a totally different thought Okay, I've grown my own sage for many years and I think sage is like mint there must be 500 different varieties. I pick a leaf and rub it in my fingers as you did. And it has sage flavor. My guess is I just didn't have a potent enough sage. So, I agree with the butter. By the way, even in a dark pan. If you tip the pan away from you, you can kind of see when it collects up the other edge you can get some idea that color. I think you just are growing a form of sage that probably isn't as concentrated in flavor is what you need. So, my guess is if you look it up in the seed catalog or whatever, you can end up with a maybe a more culinary sage that has a stronger flavor because I know there's a whole bunch of different varieties out there.

SM: And do add some parmesan or some salt. I think that might help out there too.

Caller: Well, thank you.

CK: Yeah, you're welcome. Thanks for calling.

SM: Yes, thanks, Denise.

CK: Make sure that butters toasty, oatsy. Yes.

Caller: I will, bye bye

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we're chatting with linguist Dan Jurasky. That in more in just a moment.

This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Professor Dan Jurasky. about the language of food. Dan, welcome to Milk Street.

Dan Jurasky: Chris, thanks so much for having me.

CK: The language of food? Is there a language or a culture that's used? Now that's replaced French or is French still there? I'll be it in smaller numbers.

DJ: Well, there's a little bit of use of French still to indicate high culture. But really, the change that we've seen is to something that's often called cultural ominousness. Like, instead of having one high culture like French, every aspect of our culture can be used to indicate status. So, if you look at modern menus, you know what a fancy restaurants do on menus? Well, they talk about the ranch or the farm where the food is grown, they talk about the provenance of the food. So, knowing where your food is, from a sort of a mark now of status in the way that, you know, 100 years ago, if you look at menus in San Francisco, even the Italian menus, if it was a fancy restaurant, the Italian menus were all in French.

CK: What are the techniques people use today, to get people to buy certain things on the menu, and I assume the more expensive items?

DJ: Oh, there are all sorts of interesting techniques. And one thing you can see about menus is the techniques you use to sell the food and convince your customers to buy are really different depending on the price of the restaurant. So, for example, some restaurants use these beautiful sensory adjectives, your crispies and buttery, flaky, fluffy and that tends to be your middle-priced restaurants. The cheapest restaurants, they tend to use these words like gourmet or tasty or delicious. And now an expensive restaurant’s not going to say delicious, because they want you to assume their food is delicious. They're not going to go out of their way to to bring it up as a discussion.

CK: Let's talk about Yelp, you did a study on a million Yelp reviews, as well as 5 million reviews on peer review websites. What did you learn about that? What kind of words do people use are good reviews different than bad reviews?

DJ: This was a really interesting set of results. So we went looking at reviews figuring we'd find, oh, people who don't like a restaurant will complain about greasy food or too much salt or something. And what we found is if you if you look at the one-star reviews, the reviews where people really hated the restaurant, they don't talk about the food at all. They use words like horrible and awful, okay, that's sensible. But what they talked about was people so if you look at the words they used a lot they used words like he and she and the waitress and the manager and the waiter. And these stories were in the past they use past tense words like waited and was and finally they use the first-person plural the word we the word us the word ourselves. So, you know, you see a sentence like we were ignored until we flagged down a waiter to get our waitress. So, we thought, well, what's going on here? What what kind of genre of language has negative words in the past tense about people, and lots of mentions of the first-person plural. And we found that there's a psychological literature on this. So, text written by people who suffered trauma. So, it's people who, yeah, after there's been a death in the community or a fire, people are writing in the past tense, because they want to distance themselves from this traumatic experience. And they use words like we, because we will get through this together, you know, we, as a community will get to this traumatic event. So, it's as if a one star review is telling you that this person suffered trauma at this restaurant. And that tells you it's not about the food, the one-star reviews, it's all about the personal interaction.

CK: Junk foods, potato chips, what are the issues there? Let's see between an expensive bag of chips and an inexpensive bag

DJ: Yes, this it's the same, it's really the same as menus, the more expensive the potato chip, the more likely they are to tell you where it comes from. And the other thing that tater ships do this is different than menus is that expensive potato chips talk a lot about how healthy they are, you know, the more expensive a chip, if you look at the bag, it's going to tell you that it doesn't have any trans fats in it. Now, no chips have trans fats, because trans fats sort of make things thicker. So, the cheap chips don't have trans fats either, but they just don't mention it. You know, everyone knows that potato chips are not good for you. But the expensive chips are sort of going out of their way to try to reassure you, so you could pretend that they're good for you.

CK: It's kind of interesting that people want to be sold on something they know isn't true. Do you think part of this is, is getting consumers to fool themselves long enough to buy the product?

DJ: I think that's a great metaphor. I mean, a goal is to convince someone to do this thing you want them to do. And one way to do that is to appeal to their subconscious. So, you know, appeal to the, what they would like to believe or who they would like to be deep down.

CK: One of the most interesting parts of the book was sound symbolism. And you talked about front vowels and back vowels. Could you talk about that?

DJ: Yeah, this is a very fascinating part of linguistics that, you know, it's something that happens to us all the time, and we don't notice it. So, there are different kinds of vowels. And so in some vowels, like if you just stop and make the sound, he is in cheese. And you can feel yourself making a smile, when you make cheese in your mouth kind of goes wide. And it turns out your tongue is in the very front part of your mouth, when you when you're widen your mouth, like that your tongue tip goes to the front of the mouth. And if you make a different kind of vowel, like ooh, like, like tool, now your tongue is in the back of the mouth. And when your tongue is in the front of the mouth, you're making a particular kind of high pitch sound. And when your tongue is in the back of the mouth, you're making a kind of a low pitch sound. And it turns out that we naturally associate high pitches with small objects and big pitches with large objects. And that's not surprising like little birds, they have high pitched chirps, and big lions have these low pitched roars. And somehow, that kind of subconscious innate association extends to all sorts of other things. So, when we have front vowels that have extra little high pitches, we associate them with things that we'd like to be light and thin and small like crackers. And so, you get words like cheese it and Wheat Thins and crispy Ritz's all these ear vowels, but something that you would like to be solid and heavy and rich. While that's ice cream, and look at ice cream names, fudge and chocolate and caramel and coconut and rocky road all these ahhs and O's and so we did an experiment just comparing the vowels in ice cream flavor names and cracker names and sure enough, you're twice as likely to have the front vowels in the cracker names and the back vowels in the ice cream names. So, here's another thing that you know I don't know if when you name a cracker, are you thinking this? Well, maybe not consciously, but but advertisers do know about this, you know, linguist write about this phenomena. It's called sound symbolism.

CK: Cheerios from a linguistic point of view. What What could you tell me about Cheerios?

DJ: Oh, Cheerios is great, because it has, you know, it has that homonym to cheer. So, it automatically is a happy word. And it's playful because it has the O in it. And the O is the shape of the N, you can make that shape with your mouth and O is a particularly good one because the shape of the the vowel that we write O, kind of makes the shape of the lips when you're making the O, so it's very symbolic. So, I think cheers is a great name.

CK: Any other really common food product that you really would put on the Hall of Fame list?

DJ: I don't know. I think some of the interesting ones are ones that weren't made up. But somehow, we had stayed around for a long time. I mean, you know, ketchup like ketchup is an ancient Chinese word stuck around.
for 1000 years like how come?

CK: Why do you think it's so powerful?

DJ: Well, you know in Cantonese ___ mean sauce. So, it still means, you know, it has the sauce word kind of in it, but in English we don't see that. So, you know, it's kind of the American sauce with a word that's very foreign. You know, normally when we borrow foods, we do borrow the word with them that's that is the most common situation. Like you know, when you start eating bok choy you we use the word bok choy, we don't call it Chinese white flowering cabbage. And there there's something about the name of a food it's as if you know names get at some kind of inner primal essence and so, ketchup is just ketchup like how could you call it something else?

CK: Do you think that products that are have two words have a particular power in them? Rocky Road Pop Tarts, cheese doodles, I mean, this because it gives you an opportunity to play one thing off the other?

DJ: Oh, that's really good. I think you're right. And it also gives you a chance to have some prosody to have a kind of a rhythm. prosody is like the rhythm of a phrase, like one word doesn't have a lot of rhythm. But if you've got two words, now you've got two different stress syllables you can play with. Now you can imagine music going to it. So, I think you're right, you have more you have more fun you can do when you get to get to a couple of words.

CK: So, when you go to the supermarket, do you go for two reasons. One is to buy what you need and the other is it's a form of sort of professional entertainment?

DJ: Very much. So, I mean, you know, as a kid, I read the back of the cereal box, because that's what you do. But now yeah, menus and advertising and reviews. You know, we think about it, we're especially in this online world. You know, the web is made of words like those words everywhere around us. And as a linguist, what a fascinating way to spend your days is, is looking behind the words to see what people are thinking.

CK: Dan, thank you very much. I'll never go to the supermarket in the same way again. Thank you.

DJ: Well, thanks so much for having me.

CK: That was Dan Jurasky. He is professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University. Also, author of The Language of Food, A Linguist Reads the Menu.

You know, in the country we named places after the people who live there, in my Vermont town there's a Bentley Road and Administer Hill, and houses are named after former residents. I now live in the Graham house although I've lived there long enough the locals have started calling it the Kimball house. The same used to apply to foods their names made a lot of sense. Pot Roast is cooked in a pot, mashed potatoes are mashed, apple pies contain apples. Then store bought food names started getting fancy Sugar Pops new fizz Twizzlers, Mike and Ike, Twinkies and Cheez Whiz. Like everything else in our culture food had to be sold, not just described. You know, Frank Zappa named his daughter Moon Unit Zappa. I guess he was just ahead of his time. It's time to check in with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe, German pork schnitzel. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.

CK: As you know, my mother-in-law was born in Salzburg. And we go back as often as we can. And we go to Vienna too because my wife has a cousin there. And we have of course Wiener schnitzel, which really was a revelation to me, because it's incredibly crisp and light. And it's one of those dishes where if you do it, right, it's heavenly. You do it wrong. It's greasy and thick and chewy, and it's really not appealing. So, our food editor Matt Card was in Berlin a year ago and they also make schnitzel there but not veal and make something else. Right?

LC: That's right, Chris. So, our food editor was in Berlin, he went to a restaurant and worked with a chef there who made schwein schnitzel, which is actually pork schnitzel, kind of not how maybe most Americans think of schnitzel, they think of it with veal. He liked what he called the zaftig quality of pork, which is rich, and fatty has a ton more flavor. So, in our version, we're using pork tenderloin that we cut into four pieces and pounded really nice and thin, so it cooks really fast. It's almost I would call it face sized piece of pork. It's really big, but very thin. So, it gets really nice and crisp.

CK: And so, the coating is this the classic Panko bread crumb trick, or what are we doing?

LC: It's not so this is kind of a major difference between schnitzel and just your typical breaded cutlet. schnitzel is meant to be crisp, as you said, it's not crunchy, so you don't want that craggy coating on it. You want a really fine bread crumb, what we found in Germany it was they use Kaiser rolls, and just dry them in the oven and then blitz them in the food processor for a really fine crumb. It's really sweet and wheaty flavor, but again, that's kind of crisp, but not crunchy.

CK: So, if you don't have a breadbox full of Kaiser rolls, what do you do?

LC: You can just buy regular dry breadcrumbs, but don't use the panko.

CK: Okay, so the cooking method is a shallow fry, I guess in a skillet. But is there a method to the madness here?

LC: There is. And it's kind of the hallmark of schnitzel. schnitzel has a sort of wavy crust on it separates from the meat a little bit, but you want to make sure it doesn't fall off, which is why it's a little bit tricky to do. We actually do ours in a Dutch oven to kind of keep the splatter contained. And then when you put the pork into the hot oil, you kind of shake the pan a little bit. And that gives it that undulating crust.

CK: It's the wave.

LC: It's the wave.

CK: I mean, this is just one of my favorite dishes of all time. So now we've cooked the cutlet. We're just serving this. You know on a Kaiser roll, or what how are we eating it?

LC: So, you serve it on a plate, a little squeeze of lemon, a dollop of lingonberry jam if you have it, and it can just kind of live on its own.

CK: So, we started Austria in Salzburg ended up in Berlin. But it's still a schnitzel a schnitzel, right? It's a very similar technique. Serve it if you have it with lingonberry jam, which is traditional German pork schnitzel. Thank you very much Lynn.

LC: You're welcome, Chris. You can get this recipe for German pork schnitzel at Milk Street

CK: Listening to Milk Street Radio coming up J Kenji Lopez alt discusses how to turn young kids into adventurous eaters. We'll be right back.

This is Milk Street Radio I'm Christopher Kimball. Next up Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to milk street who is calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Marta in Rock Hall, Maryland.

SM: Hi, Marta. How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I have a large fig tree that is very prolific, and I am looking for some ideas on what to do with the bounty from this tree. They are brown turkey figs. I gather they aren't quite as sweet as other varieties of figs. And I'm now in the second harvest of the year and running out of ideas. After you do the bleu cheese and figs, appetizer and fig jam and a fig cake, you kind of go Okay, now what next?

SM: Well, I guess we're heading towards preserving land here maybe that would be a good direction to go. You could put them into a sugar syrup with some spices. And you know cook them gently that way and then give that I'm thinking of Christmas too give that as gifts or maybe even do them in a sort of a wine syrup. Which would be counter counterbalance some of the sweetness or dullness. I mean, I like figs, but the acidity is pretty low for the most part so they're a little bit flat. Or you could pickle them do sort of a pickled you know with a combination of sugar and acid and spices. Maybe like apple cider vinegar and honey. And then that would be a nice conserve, so to speak to serve say with salty cheeses. Again. Okay, maybe a nice Christmas gift, Chris?

CK: Well, I just have two ideas for cooking and eating as much as you can while my last. I like to broil them. Oh yeah, drizzle with honey, especially because these are not as sweet and broil them and then serve them with like, either, you know some Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream, instant dessert and you could do a whole bunch of them at once. I've been really into chicken traybakes lately, which you just take chicken parts in the middle you put some herbs and some garlic and some other things. But just sprinkling figs cut in half with a chicken and then finishing off make a sauce in the middle of the pan. But they would be great with roasted chicken that way, but I think the broiled figs with honey would be a must.

Caller: Those are great ideas. Yeah, I was going to ask you if you have savory idea.

CK: I think chicken and figs would go really well in a broil. Yeah.

SM: Bacon and eggs is a happy match too

Caller: Yeah, okay, great. Thank you.

CK: There you go. Give it a shot.

Caller: Ok Marta Thank you.

CK: Thanks. Take care. Bye. This is Milk Street Radio. If you're in a cooking rod, give us a call. The number is 855-429-8431 more time and slowly 855-426-8431 or email us at questions at Milk Street
Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Yes. Good afternoon. It's Less ___ calling you from Waterloo, Ontario.

CK: And how can we help you?

Caller: I've been looking for a recipe for a ham pot pie similar to a chicken pot pie and I don't know if you can just replace the chicken with the ham so to speak for a recipe?

CK: Yes. Yeah, this is going to be a very short call. Yes, you can. I mean, you know, you make a roux with some chicken stock velvety which is basically the sauce. Yes, some precooked potatoes and carrots in there you put the ham instead of the chicken, which is no problem, you might think about slightly different seasonings in the velvety in the sauce, you know, put it in a 9 x 13, or whatever it is with a pastry crust on top. You're good to go. But Sara, you could just replace the chicken with a ham, right?

SM: Well, I do have one question though. When you say ham, you mean cured ham, smoked ham, right?

Caller: Correct

SM: In terms of your liquid, I would make sure that whatever chicken broth you used was either low sodium or homemade, so that you didn't have additional salt added to the recipe otherwise, it could be pretty inedible with a ton of ham in there. So that would be my only caveat. But other than that, that scenario that Chris just outlined, makes complete sense. The usual way to make a pot pie

CK: And just like to say a word in defense chicken pot pie, the crust and the creamy velvety sauce, and the chicken and the potatoes. And I mean, pretty yummy. I got to put that back into my repertoire.

SM: I know really. One thing I would say though, is to make sure that you cool the filling somewhat before you put the crust on it so that it doesn't melt the pie dough before you want the pie dough to poof up a bit in the oven, so you don't want to melt out the butter that's in the pie dough. So that's the only thing I would say.

Caller: There’s some pie crust you kind of bake in the oven first you take it out and then you put the filling in and then you put it back in the oven.

SM: Well, that would only be if you're doing a double crust and you didn't want the bottom to be soggy. Do you usually do a double crust potpie?

Caller: I do. Yeah.

CK: Oh, yeah. Then you're going to want to prebate the bottom.

SM: I think that would be a good idea. Yeah

CK: Double crust potpies pretty serious business though you know, you’re not kidding around here. I mean,

SM: This is this is a serious cook we’re talking to.

CK: I’ve only done single crust I don't even go there. So.

Caller: Well. That's very, very helpful. I very much appreciate that.

SM: Okay,

Caller: Great.

CK: Some recipes suggest put corn in it, I would put peas in it, which is traditional so

SM: I love peas in pot pies. You’re making us hungry.

Caller: Well, peas and carrots are always a nice combination.

SM: Yeah, pretty traditional. Yeah,

CK: You know that’s one of those recipes, Sara we're going to have to bring it back. We are right.

SM: Absolutely. My husband would be so thrilled he even eats the horrible frozen ones.

CK: Less thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

SM: Thank you.

Caller: Well, thank you for your time. It was a privilege to speak to you both. Thank you Mr. Kimbill.

CK: Thank you.
This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary inspiration from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, my name is Nancy in Brooklyn and here is my waste not want not to tip. You know how you can get the honey out of the crevices in the honey jar the last bit of honey. Well, if you swish some hot, almost boiling water around in there, you then have some honey sweetened water which you can use as I am making a hot toddy for some other appropriate destination that you might have in mind. Anyway, that's my tip.

CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip by Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk Street Comm slash Radio tips.
Next up its food science writer j Kenji Lopez Alt. Kenji how are you?

j Kenji Lopez Alt: I'm doing good. How are you?

CK: I'm sure you've been doing well. But you probably been cooking too.

JKA: I have been yes. Cooking quite a bit. Quite a bit more recently. Actually. I have a kids book that just came out every night is pizza night. And I've also started a new column called Food Lab Jr, which is about recipes and tips for cooking with kids. So, I thought maybe we could talk today about strategies for getting your kids to eat better, and to help them get more involved in the kitchen.

CK: So, your remind me I met your daughter, she's three-ish.

JKA: So yeah, three and a half.

CK: So, you're going to, you're going to tell me that you have an idyllic world with your three-year-old at home in the kitchen. I just know, that's what you're going to say.

JKA: I Well, I wouldn't call it idyllic. Exactly, but I sort of subscribe to the theory that the reason kids become picky eaters is because food is sort of the one place in their life where they get to express an opinion because everything else in their life is so heavily guided and chaperoned. So, when they're at the table, and they can pick up that thing and throw it on the floor and say they don't want it you know, that's that's, it's not really about them disliking the food, it's more about them expressing an opinion and sort of proving that they're their own person. So rather than giving them you know, one or two things on their plate, and making them eat all of it, you know, we try and have sort of an array of different foods, colors and textures on the plate. And so, you know, that way if she says today, I don't feel like eating carrots, for instance, then you know, that's, that's fine she doesn't have to eat carrots that day. Maybe the next day she will eat carrots, but it gives her sort of like an opportunity to express an opinion while still making sure that she gets a bunch of healthy things into her. You know, the other the other thing that we do is that we never make her a special meal. So, she's basically from the time she could sit upright, which is, you know, around six months old, she's been eating the same food that we eat at dinner.

CK: Boy, you know, I like your psychology is the only place they can refuse something that shows they have power. The problem is it now I'm you know, with Milk Street, my food is a lot spicier than it used to be. And so, when I was cooking, quote, unquote, American food, whatever that means, I could serve that to my kids. They ate what I ate. But now I just did an Ethiopian stew with a third of a cup of ground spices right last night. That's not going into my one-and-a-half-year-olds. That's not going to happen.

JKA: Well, have you ever tried it?

CK: Well, no, I just you know, it does have Aleppo pepper in it and some other stuff.

JKA: So, I mean, I found that with my daughter, she she was eating spicy foods. When she was an infant. She went through a little phase where she's like, No, I don't want to but it was basically actually right when she started preschool. And she started learning that other kids don't eat spicy food. She came home one day, and she's like, no, that's too spicy. But last week, I had a I have a little pot of chili oil that I was putting onto my own food. And she asked for it. And now she's been putting chili oil on every meal now. So, you know, I think little kids can handle spice if they, you know, again, if they sort of don't realize that they're, that they're supposed to not like it. Another thing that my wife and I are conscious of is that we never use negative words around food. So, you know, one thing I see parents sometimes do is say, oh, like, don't try that you're not going to like it or like, are you really going to eat that? You know, and they say things like that to their kids. And I think, you know, that sort of puts them in this mindset that they're not supposed to like a thing. You know, when my wife and I cook for each other or the family, we always sort of enthusiastically praise each other for the cooking, we thank each other for cooking, we talk about different flavors, we talk about what we're eating and why we like it. And if she does something kind of gross. We don't tell her it's gross. We let her we let it run with it, you know, so she went through this phase early on where she would take a little bit of everything, put it into a bowl and then pour her juice into it, and then eat that all like slurp it all up and it's, you know, it's kind of gross when it's like, tuna fish and potatoes and, and, and carrots all in a bowl with orange juice, but she was eating it and that's fine. You know, it's like so now like my daughter was if you ask her what her favorite foods are, she says fish eyeballs. So, whenever we get fish, she insists that we get it with the whole head on because she likes to eat the cheeks and eyeballs. So, like fish eyeballs, broccoli and tofu.

CK: You know, you're straining your credibility. You were okay with the orange juice, the tuna fish. But the fish I I've had fisheyes once in Tobago many years ago. Really?

JKA: I think part of that is sort of like the first time she had fish eyeballs like I told heroh, you can try the fish eyeballs and made it into this sort of cool experience. And then she did it and now every time you know when we ask her what her favorite foods, she says fish eyeballs and like smiles. And she you know I think she likes the reaction. She gets out of this. But you know, it sounds like a sneaky psychological trick. But you know, it's really just like, being enthusiastic about what they choose and and praising them and smiling at them when they do good things. You know, it's it's like it you know, it is a psychological trick, but it's also just like good practice for humans in general, you know

CK: Oh, yes. Well, I mean, look, if I'm still alive in 20 years, I'm going to call you when your daughter's 23. Okay. And we'll just we'll just look back over the early years and see if this theory held up. I my guess is it will Yeah. Sounds like you're a great dad. But you know, we'll compare notes. Okay.

JKA: All right. Sounds good.

CK: Kenji. Thank you very much. How to get your kid to eat fish eyeballs and hot spices. Thanks.

That was J Kenji Lopez Alt. He's the chief culinary consultant for Serious Eats a food columnist for The New York Times and also author of the book The Food Lab. People always ask me if my kids are adventurous eaters and I have to admit that the answer is no. My oldest son likes steak, cheese and bread, although he now claims to have given up meat. So, let's just call it the bread and cheese diet. Which brings up the issue of whether parents pass along skills and also preferences to their kids. Well, there were three Bronte's, Emily, Charlotte and Anne and two Amis, Kingsley and Martin. The problem is that Kingsley Amis his father was a mustard manufacturer clerk and Arthur Miller, another famous author, his parents were Polish immigrants who made clothing. Once again, heredity is a messy business. So maybe what I really want for lunch is a cheese sandwich.

That's it for today. If you tuned in to later just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcasts.

To learn more about Milk Street visit us at 177 Milk Street comm there you can download each week's recipe or watch the latest season ever television show or order our latest cookbook Cookish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio was produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, executive producer Melissa Baldino, Senior audio editor Melissa Allison, co-executive producer Annie Sinsanaugh, associate producer Jackie Novak. production assistant Sarah Clapp and production help from Debby Paddock. Senior audio engineer David Goodman, additional editing from Vicki Merrick Sidney Lewis and Samantha Brown, an audio mixing from Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's milk street radio is distributed by PRX.