Slice of life: Forked

TOM HASHAGEN

TOM HASHAGEN

If it weren’t for Catherine de Medici, there would probably be no North Fork, South Fork or any other fork. In fact, the “Twin Forks,” as we shall see, are entirely misnamed, as are most other geographic “forks” around the world.

The French, who like to think that modern cuisine as we know it would not exist without them, would have never gotten anywhere without the intervention of the aforementioned Catherine de Medici, who was, sadly for the French, Italian.

In 1533, at the tender age of 14, Catherine, from Florence, was sent to France to marry Henry II. Henry was pretty much a jerk, ignoring his young wife in favor of a mistress 20 years his senior.

Catherine responded by busying herself in improving the menus and styles of French eating, which was pretty much stuck in a medieval rut. Her retinue of chefs that had accompanied her from home, helped introduce all sorts of new vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, artichokes and truffles. Guinea hens and veal were also new to the French, as well as a more refined way of eating that included, to the extreme benefit of eaters worldwide, the fork.

Before Catherine, fingers were used to pull apart meats and scoop up food from plates. For the dull French, however, it would take nearly a century for eating with utensils to really catch on since the practice was deemed “effeminate” by snooty royalty.

If you watch someone eat in America, you will notice that for the right-handed person, a fork is grasped in the left hand, the knife in the right, and so together are used to cut a small piece of food from a larger one.

Then, the knife is set down, the fork transferred to the right hand, and the smaller bit is stuck and transported mouthward. In Europe, there is no inefficient transfer of utensils. The fork stays in the left hand and does its job. I have used this technique myself, and find it especially useful when consuming a large quantity of smoked brisket.

The undisputed master of malapropism, Yogi Berra, said, “When you see a fork in the road, take it.”

Now we all know a fork in the road when we see one. It is sometimes referred to as the “Y,” where you are supposed to head either left or right. A local example could be Grand Avenue in the Heights which “forks” at the flagpole near the firehouse, and you can either go left along the creek or right up to Goat Hill.
As mentioned at the beginning of this column, we are all familar with the North and South forks, which begin at Riverhead and stretch eastward for 30 to 40 miles.

Here’s the problem: there is no such thing as a North or South fork. They are in fact, “tines” or “prongs.” Technically the “fork” refers to the geographical division, not the individual prong or tine. So now, as you must plainly see, everything that has “fork” in its name will have to be re-named. If your mind works like mine, and you should probably be very thankful that it doesn’t, you can come up with dozens of new names, such as “Group for the South Prong,” or the “North Tine Table and Inn.” In a slightly more alliterative use, “Twin Forks” will become “Twin Tines.” The Shelter Island 5K will now benefit both the “North and South Prong Breast Health Coalition.”

Isn’t this fun?

Another use of “fork in the road” is when someone comes to a significant decision-making or major life-changing event.

Like retirement.

You will not believe what happened to me the day before I officially retired. Well, you will when you look at the photographic evidence below.

COURTESY PHOTO | The fork in the road.

COURTESY PHOTO | The fork in the road.

I was heading to an end of the year school meeting in Oakdale, when I glanced at my rearview mirror to check on the status of a large pan of macaroni salad that I thought I had heard shift as I was stop-and-starting along Sunrise Highway. To prevent the interior of the Prius from smelling like basil vinaigrette, I pulled over to the shoulder near my exit, repositioned and stabilized the macaroni salad, and then continued off the highway, up the ramp.

What then did I hear? “Flopflopflopflopflopflopflopflopflop.” Anxious onlookers did double-takes as the Prius limped down the road to a reasonably safe spot where I stopped the car and got out to see what’s happened.

A fork. That’s right, a fork. I had run over a metal fork that was thoughtfully disposed of by a mobile eater.
The day before I retire from teaching culinary arts, instead of “taking the fork in the road,” I run over it.

The guys at the tire place said they had taken many objects out of tires, but this was a first for them.
As one of the more enlightened mechanics exclaimed: “Stick a fork in it, it’s done!”