death row prisoners’ last meals.
THE news that Texas has taken away the right of prisoners facing execution to choose their last meal highlights some of the unusual choices that have been made.
When Lawrence Russell Brewer, a notorious white supremacist murderer, placed his order for his final meal early September, it was too much for US Senator John Whitmire, chairman of the Texas senate’s criminal justice committee. He halted the state’s tradition of granting a prisoner facing execution the right to request their favourite food.
Brewer, in one last attempted act of defiance, had supersized his request, ordering two fried chicken steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound (453g) of barbecue meat, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint (0.47litre) of ice-cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts.
But as he was led off for his lethal injection, he hadn’t eaten any of it.
Brian Price, a former prison chef who wrote Meals To Die For based on his experience of preparing “special meals” for prisoners, offered to continue the tradition for free, calling the ban “cold-hearted”. His request was turned down.
The history of the last-meal in Texas – recorded online at sites such as Dead Man Eating – sums up both the background and predicament of death-row prisoners. Rare are the requests for lobster or caviar. (The meal has to be prepared from ingredients available in the prison kitchen.)
More common are Dr Pepper, fried catfish, grits and burgers. In other words, the cheap, fast food of childhood – giving sociologists and psychologists plenty to chew on.
But some requests are more unusual than others. Before James Smith was executed in 1990, he asked for a handful of earth to complete a voodoo ritual. He was refused so settled for yoghurt instead.
In 2002, Robert Buell asked for a single pitted black olive before his execution.
And just before Thomas J. Grasso was executed in 1995, he was asked if he wished to say anything: “I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.”
In 2010, Texas was treated to the rather unusual spectacle of a deathrow prisoner receiving – and eating – his “last” supper only to have a stay of execution.
Hank Skinner was convicted in 1995 of murdering his girlfriend and her two sons, ordered three pieces of fried chicken, two catfish fillets, a bowl of green onions, a bowl of tartar sauce, a bowl of homemade ranch dressing, a bowl of shredded cheese, a bowl of crumbled eggs, two double bacon cheeseburgers, a large order of fries REMEMBER when butter came in two varieties – salted and not?
Food writer and blogger Leitha Matz can, which makes it all the more surprising when she contemplates the herd of butter choices now crowding grocery shelves.
“There’s cultured butter, there are artisanal butters. You can get butter that is more yellow in the spring and summer than it is in the autumn and winter because you can actually see the transition of what the animal is eating.”
In fact, Matz, who taste-tested a raft of butters for her blog Miss Ginsu.com, found herself “astounded at the sheer breadth and variety of butter that was available.”
Spread the news: Butter is getting better in the United States.
“There’s definitely been a kind of whirlwind with butter,” says Andrew Knowlton, restaurant and drinks editor at Bon Appetit magazine.
Like bacon, butter has travelled an interesting path. A hand-crafted product 50 or so years ago, it descended into a mass-produced, taste-shackled commodity only to be resurrected in recent years as interest in good, hand-crafted food has grown.
First the bread at restaurants improved, then chefs, who were listing the names of farm suppliers on their menus, got serious about butter. These days, there are wildly popular butters produced by outfits like Straus Family Creamery on the West Coast and the Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery on the East.
There are even “cult” butters, like the handmade product from a small dairy called Animal Farm in Orwell, (naturally) Vermont, which is a supplier to celebrated chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se and The French Laundry restaurants.
And for those with a taste for the exotic, there’s the butter made in Brittany that is flecked with algae.
“When you go to the grocery store now, it’s not just the local dairy and the big brand. You’ve got seven or eight to choose from, including imported butters. We kind of caught up to the Europeans,” says Knowlton. Mixing things into butter, or making what are known as compound butters, is another development that has become more common. In the October issue, Bon Appetit features a and a chocolate milkshake.
He was determined to finish it all, but had to give up halfway through his second cheeseburger.
If he faces execution again – he is still on death row – he will have to eat whatever the prison canteen serves that day. – Guardian News & Media 2011 classic herb-lemon zest butter that can double as an instant sauce.
The nice thing about butter is you can indulge in a little luxury without incurring the kind of financial outlay that will cut through your budget like, well, you know.
“It’s not truffles or foie gras or some crazy Himalayan salt,” says Knowlton. “It’s a cheap luxury.” – AP